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PSC chief rejects call to delay LIPA, PSEG rate hike process

Audrey Zibelman, commissioner of the New York State

Audrey Zibelman, commissioner of the New York State Public Service Commission, is shown in this handout photo from June 10, 2014. Credit: NYS PSC

The chairwoman of the state Public Service Commission has rejected a call by 17 Long Island lawmakers and public officials to halt PSEG and LIPA's three-year rate-hike proceeding, saying they made their request too late.

Noting a final recommendation from the state Department of Public Service on Sept. 28, two days before the lawmakers' request, PSC chairwoman Audrey Zibelman called the request "moot as the process in this matter before the Department has been concluded." She also defended the process against lawmaker charges that the rate hike was being approved despite a lack of scrutiny.

The lawmakers, in a letter dated Sept. 30 to the department, LIPA, PSEG and the state attorney general, requested the delay because of "numerous contractual and constitutional" concerns and argued there was "no true oversight" and "no true scrutiny."

In addition, the lawmakers argued, LIPA trustees, who ultimately must approve the increase, "cannot be objective" given their roles. The letter was signed by 12 Republican state Assembly members, Nassau's and Suffolk's comptrollers, Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine and Nassau Legis. Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury).

Zibelman's final recommendation found rates can be increased by $325.4 million between 2016 and 2018. PSEG Long Island had sought $387 million, and has the right to file for arbitration to make its case for the full amount. The company declined to comment.

One of the letter's signers, Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), said Wednesday he wasn't surprised by Zibelman's response, but added he will work to introduce "comprehensive" legislation to overhaul Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's LIPA Reform Act.

Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy last week said despite the large public record, the utility hasn't given a clear picture of why the increase is necessary. "They keep talking about all the improvements," he said. "It's mind-numbing how little has been done to date."

Former LIPA trustee Sheldon Sackstein, who helped craft the letter as chairman of Action Long Island, accused Zibelman of "hiding behind the process" to reject its request. He said the group is crafting a new letter to the attorney general.

Thiele said he wants the state comptroller and attorney general back in the process of reviewing PSEG and LIPA contract spending, and he wants the Long Island DPS office to have full regulatory power. The Reform Act gave DPS only review and recommend authority.

The delivery charge portion of bills is set to increase 1.5 percent next year, then 3.8 percent in each of the following years.


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