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Handling of LIPA complaints to improve

LIPA COO Michael Hervey during their monthly meeting.

LIPA COO Michael Hervey during their monthly meeting. (Feb. 24, 2011) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

LIPA has extracted a series of improvements in the way National Grid handles customer service complaints on the authority's behalf in the wake of a recent billing glitch and reports of overcharged and incorrectly classified customers.

The changes come in response to what the Long Island Power Authority said was an erosion in complaint handling by National Grid, which manages the local electrical system and customer service operations under a $2.3-billion contract.

In an interview, LIPA chief operating officer Mike Hervey said he called for a series of meetings over the past week with National Grid officials to air LIPA gripes. As a result, he said, National Grid appointed a new vice president for LIPA customer services, and has altered procedures and the chain of command so LIPA customers get better and faster responses to billing complaints.

Hervey said LIPA wants clearer distinctions in the way National Grid handles LIPA customer service calls from those of National Grid gas customers. Often, the same reps handle calls for LIPA electric and National Grid gas complaints. Hervey said he wants LIPA policies applied more closely.

"I don't know what the gas policy is and I don't care," Hervey said. "I just want to be sure they [National Grid] are separating our policy from their policy."

National Grid, in a statement, said it had developed a plan "with immediate steps to improve service," including appointing 25-year National Grid veteran Mary Genoy to the new Long Island customer services vice president role. Her appointment "will also provide LIPA with local executive accountability and a single point of contact for all LIPA customer-related issues," National Grid said.

Suffolk Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) said he was encouraged, but wondered, "where have they been in their oversight responsibilities all these years?" Nevertheless, he said, "if they're turning a new leaf I'm all for their change of heart."

LIPA's demands follow revelations last week and in past months that LIPA customers were billed at incorrect rates and were told that refunds would only go back months instead of years.

Hervey said the number of misclassified customers was minimal, though he said LIPA is looking into cases in which multifamily homes may have been misclassified as commercial accounts.

LIPA's public gripe with National Grid marks the second time in recent months the agency has blamed problems on the British company. It also comes as LIPA is reviewing formal bids by two other companies, Con Edison and New Jersey's PSE&G, to take over management of the Long Island electric grid. National Grid is also in the running.

In April, LIPA chairman Howard Steinberg noted LIPA and National Grid's interests "are not always aligned." When there's a problem, he said, "LIPA takes all the heat in the media, and Grid runs and hides."

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