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Lawmakers from LI back Cuomo plan to give PSEG near control of LIPA sooner

Keith Murphy, a PSEG lineman, prepares his truck

Keith Murphy, a PSEG lineman, prepares his truck the day superstorm Sandy hit Long Island. (Oct. 29, 2012) Credit: Tariq Zehawi

State lawmakers from Long Island Thursday expressed support for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's pursuit of a plan to turn nearly full control of the electric system over to PSEG in January -- or sooner.

Some said they were so concerned about the prospect of entering the summer storm season under the existing structure that they would like PSEG to take over this summer, if possible.

"I don't want to go through another storm with a company that's going out and what's left of LIPA running a major storm," said state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), referring to National Grid and the Long Island Power Authority. "That's too big a risk. I'd rather have a company that's going to be here another 10 years."

PSEG is slated to take over management of the electric grid in January. Under a new plan being pursued by Cuomo's administration, PSEG would assume a much larger role, fully displacing LIPA's brand and taking charge of capital and operating budgets, power functions and most other roles. LIPA would be reduced to a holding company of some 30 staffers charged largely with administering the $6.9 billion debt.

Senate Republicans from Long Island who met with Cuomo last week said the plan also would include a three-year rate freeze.

Businesses also supported the expanded PSEG plan. Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association and a former LIPA chief executive, said Cuomo's plan was "consistent with the recent recommendations made by the LIA board of directors and one that we would support."

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said storm response is even more critical because of recent predictions that this year's hurricane season could be as volatile as last year's.

"It seems to me we have to accelerate parts of that contract to make sure the people of Long Island are covered during the 2013 storm season," he said.

In a statement, PSEG spokeswoman Karen Johnson said, "We continue to have discussions with LIPA and New York State officials on how best to provide Long Island consumers with the high level of service, reliability, and value they expect and deserve." She declined to comment on changes to the contract.

LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said the authority remains "on track" with its planned PSEG transition. State Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick) said regardless of what happens with PSEG short or long term "LIPA has to go. No question about that."

At a LIPA board meeting Thursday, trustees professed little knowledge of the expanded PSEG plan, which Newsday first reported Thursday, and most agreed with ratepayer Carol Blumenthal, who rattled off a list of questions about the expanded PSEG role, including its costs.

Blumenthal, a member of activist group Long Island Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods, said the group was concerned the plan would be put in place "ignoring input from the public."

LIPA chairman Larry Waldman replied, "Those are all good questions," adding, "We're concerned about the same things."

Trustee Suzette Smookler, expressing frustration at how little trustees knew of the plan, asked Blumenthal, "If you get the answers before me, would you call me?"

Trustee Jeffrey Greenfield called on the Cuomo administration to follow through on a long-promised meeting. "We've been anxiously awaiting that meeting for a long time," he said. "While we all appreciate Newsday, it would be nice if [the administration] would speak to us directly with respect to what the governor's plans are."

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