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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

New LIPA must be more transparent, accountable

The LIPA Newbridge Road Substation in Levittown being

The LIPA Newbridge Road Substation in Levittown being prepared to connect to the Neptune Regional Transmission System. (Aug. 16, 2006) Credit: Jim Peppler

The promised new and improved Long Island Power Authority -- and PSEG, the New Jersey utility that actually will manage the region's electric service -- has work to do.

Word came last week that federal prosecutors are looking into findings of the state Moreland Commission that LIPA paid exorbitant fees and expenses to a utility consulting firm.

Also last week, Newsday reported that LIPA paid upward of $40 million to fix equipment related to the Neptune Cable and replace lost power while portions of the undersea energy line between New Jersey and Long Island were down for more than a year.

LIPA-related revelations have been so frequent and plentiful that it's hard to push aside suspicion that monies from businesses and residents paying some of the highest electric rates in the nation may have been mismanaged.

The Moreland Commission, empaneled by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to investigate storm response and preparations by New York utilities, has referred its findings to the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District.

But scouring through LIPA's past is not enough.

Going forward, it is essential that operations become more transparent, and that promised oversight by the state Public Service Commission is aggressive enough to stop questionable actions by those responsible for Long Island's electrical power in the future.

One of the most important jobs, however, will rest with PSEG, the New Jersey corporation that will assume management of the Island's electrical system next year.

The utility already has indicated that it intends to do away with the legion of expensive contractors LIPA has used. PSEG has much of that expertise in-house.

But the utility also will have to be far more aggressive than LIPA was in handling problems.

Was there a better way to handle the Neptune cable repair in a way that could have mitigated costs?

Such determinations, going forward, will be made by PSEG -- which, hopefully, will be savvy enough to avoid similar situations.

The promise of a revamped LIPA is that it will be better managed, with stronger oversight and more transparent operations.

That leaves the new LIPA board, the Public Service Commission and, especially, PSEG with big jobs.

The challenge will be getting it all done.

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