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Romaine presses effort for audit of LIPA/PSEG rate-hike request

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, joined by

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, joined by Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., and Brookhaven Town Council members, speaks during a news conference to express opposition to proposed utility rate increases by LIPA and PSEG Long Island at Brookhaven Town Hall, Tuesday, June 9, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Brookhaven Town officials Tuesday pressed their effort to have State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli audit LIPA and PSEG's proposed three-year rate hike after a state department reviewing the case acknowledged errors in its calculations.

Four Brookhaven Town Board members and Supervisor Edward P. Romaine called a news conference to criticize LIPA and PSEG Long Island's original rate filing as "misleading" and rife with "omissions."

"It was confusing and may have led to some misinterpretations," Romaine said of the state's errors. "We have got to get the numbers right on this."

DiNapoli's office said yesterday it was "reviewing" the request for an audit.

"While the comptroller does not have statutory authority related to utility rate setting, this office is looking at the challenges that persist for LIPA and ratepayers," DiNapoli spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman said.

The Long Island office of the state Department of Public Service on Monday acknowledged that a $124 million "miscalculation" had forced it to revise its previous call for a 78 percent reduction in the proposed rate hike. DPS now says the rate request should be reduced by just 37 percent.

"I'm sure DPS did their best but somehow it was miscalculated," Romaine said. "It doesn't give us confidence."

DPS in a letter explaining the revisions to its original filing noted the issues involved in the case "are complex," and that it was "imperative that the developing public record is complete and accurate."

As a party in the rate-case proceeding, Brookhaven has filed paperwork requesting DiNapoli be "invited" to conduct an independent review of the rate proceeding, in which LIPA and PSEG seek 4 percent annual rate increases in 2016-18. LIPA says the LIPA Reform Act conveyed that authority to the Department of Public Service, not the comptroller.

Robert Calica, an outside attorney representing the town, said the DPS miscalculations change that dynamic.

"The process was flawed, now it's broken," Calica said.

One observer said LIPA's history of missteps puts an onus on the state department.

"It's important to get this right," said Richard Berkley, executive director of the Public Utility Law Project of New York, noting LIPA rates are among the nation's highest. "Affordability is an issue. . . . Getting this wrong is a tremendous burden on the LIPA ratepayer."

PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir didn't address town officials' claims specifically but said the company has been "open and transparent" throughout the rate case.

Romaine was joined at the news conference by Brookhaven Town Board members Daniel Panico, Jane Bonner, Connie Kepert and Valerie M. Cartright.


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