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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

LIPA 'reform' not much of a bargain for LI

The state Department of Public Service -- in response to a savage critique of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's LIPA Reform Act by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli last week -- said DiNapoli had "a greater interest in the politics than in getting to the truth."

Why? Because DiNapoli didn't show DPS the report before releasing it publicly.


But if playing politics is a problem in DiNapoli's dissection of the reform act, what's the best way of explaining the three-year artificial freeze that New York State officials insisted be put on Long Islanders' electric rate as part of the 2013 act? That, most certainly, was politics, too.

Back then, the act contained no promises that rates would not increase. But then, there didn't need to be promises.

Because, logically, the politically mandated freeze only could be followed by the reality of rate increases.

So, can we move off into other areas now?

Jeffrey Weir, a spokesman for PSEG Long Island, which LIPA hired to be LI's electric service provider, Saturday challenged DiNapoli's report, in a statement, which said, in part: "Since taking over operations for our customers, we have delivered best-in-class reliability, improved our storm response, improved our call center capability, exceeded energy efficiency and renewable targets and improved our J.D. Power customer satisfaction score by 52 points, becoming the most improved large utility in the country."

Still, DiNapoli's assessment remains important because it provides a view from a distance of what else the LIPA act has wrought.

Well, maybe not from so far a distance -- DiNapoli, a Democrat from Great Neck Plaza, is a Long Islander. And his critique includes some issues that LIPA critics, over the period the act was jammed through, predicted.

The act froze rates and was supposed to help stabilize them. But now, as DiNapoli points out, there's a pending request to push rates higher, via multiple years of increases, which has the AARP and some elected officials crying foul.

Some of those proposed increases come as a result of what DiNapoli called "new categories," which also might be paraphrased as "new opportunities," to push already high customer bills higher.

One expense ratepayers will bear is the cost of a new Long Island DPS office, which -- unlike the way state review operated before the reform act, when LIPA came under ultimate oversight by the state Public Service Commission -- only has the power to "review and recommend" rather than issue "rulings." The result in some areas, as DiNapoli pointed out, " . . . is less transparency and accountability from their electric service provider."

And remember LIPA's debt -- the ratepayers' albatross -- which Cuomo's reform was supposed to ease by "[starting] the process of reducing the overall debt burden"?

That's not happening, either.

LIPA officials have said that the authority will borrow $300 million to $400 million a year over several years -- pushing LIPA's debt to $8.3 billion from $7.6 billion by 2018.

In short, LIPA's reform, according to DiNapoli, is shorting Long Island customers.

In rate and debt increases.

Lack of transparency.

And a lack of accountability.

All of which are good and important things for customers to know -- no matter how much the state on Friday praised the act.

DiNapoli labeled his report "A Public Authority in Transition."

What's left unanswered, however, is "to what?"

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