Opinion: Protect ratepayers in deciding LIPA's future

Power lines seen at sunrise in Melville on

Power lines seen at sunrise in Melville on Jan. 11, 2013. (Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile)

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Whose interests would be served by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators reinstating a private power company on Long Island? That's the key question that rate-paying residents on Long Island should be asking.

The rush to privatization suggested by the Moreland Commission, and announced by Cuomo in his State of the State speech, leaves many questions still unanswered -- and it is good news that Long Island lawmakers are raising concerns. The public must demand to hear of the plans, proposed rates, and benefits and liabilities of the different options. That information is essential to choosing the right provider for Long Island, be it a private company, a municipal utility with an elected board, a takeover by New York Power Authority or something else.

As a first step in gaining the public's trust, we call on the governor to ensure that the future provider operates transparently, is accountable with consequences for failure, responsive to ratepayers and prepared for the next storm.


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Long Islanders organized during the 1970s and '80s to protect the public interest. County and state political leaders responded to give us what we saw as hope of safe, reliable and affordable electrical service -- something the Long Island Lighting Co. had not done when it invested billions of dollars in the Shoreham nuclear power plant.

Although it is a public authority, created with the promise of being grounded in the community's interests, the Long Island Power Authority has not been accountable to Long Islanders. There are no consequences for its failures. In the 23 years since LIPA took over, the billions of dollars in Shoreham debt has not gone down. In fact, it has gone up, to nearly $7 billion.

Soon after LIPA was created, and the ink was barely dry on the Shoreham plant's demise, the authority turned into a den of cronyism through political appointments. In addition, under LIPA, there were huge cutbacks in field personnel, and a lack of investment in modernization of equipment and communications -- all of which paved the way for the disaster following superstorm Sandy.

This is not how it has to be. Cuomo and state legislators should ensure that the Long Island electricity provider be accountable to ratepayers, and that the process of choosing a provider be open to the public.

Almost all of the 35,000 members of our nonprofit organization, LI-CAN (Long Island Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods), were adversely affected by Sandy and LIPA's inadequacies. Hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders suffered without heat for two weeks or longer.

Whatever solution is ultimately crafted, we need a transparent decision-making process, and either an elected board or, if we end up with a private utility company, a mechanism beyond the Public Service Commission to provide accountability to customers. We need utility expertise and excellent management to replace negligence and ineffective organization; we need modernized equipment and communications; and we need new standards for system maintenance, preparedness and restoring power after major outages.

Our state senators and Assembly representatives are asking questions about privatization and urging the governor to consider other options. We're counting on them, and Gov. Cuomo, to protect Long Islanders from another power outage disaster.

The Rev. William Brisotti is pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church in Wyandanch and founding member of the Long Island Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods, a multi-faith, nonpartisan citizens' organization. Rabbi Michael Mishkin is rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in Port Washington and a LI-CAN board member.

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