LIPA trustees on Wednesday approved a policy intended to give customers better notification of major construction projects and a process to pay to bury power lines otherwise planned for overhead poles.
But the vote wasn’t unanimous — seven trustees voted for it, one was against it and another abstained — and four customers representing hundreds of ratepayers called the policy flawed and requested, unsuccessfully, that the board table the motion. State and town officials in Eastern Suffolk also opposed it.
Approval of the policy came months after PSEG Long Island drew criticism and a lawsuit over a construction project centered in Eastport that saw 175 new steel poles installed in place of smaller wooden ones without public hearings or adequate notification, residents and public officials said.
Four group leaders who spoke against the policy at the LIPA board meeting were all opponents of how PSEG completed that project.
“You never gave us a chance to review the Eastport project” in advance of construction “or have a say” in whether lines should be buried, said Roy Reynolds, president of the East Moriches Property Owners’ Association. “What we want you to do is to fix this mistake . . . and stop this from happening again.”
The LIPA trustee who voted against the policy, Matthew Cordaro, said it didn’t take into account how extreme new measures to harden the electric grid against storms with steel poles and other measures affect aesthetics and the environment. He called for a formal process such as the state’s Article 7 to govern review and public outreach of major LIPA construction projects rather than the new LIPA policy, which he said “doesn’t take into account how things have changed in the last three, four, five years.”
Trustee Peter J. Gollon abstained from the vote, saying it didn’t offer the same potential protections for county, town, village and land-trust open space that it gave to state parks.
LIPA chief executive Tom Falcone offered a spirited defense of the policy, saying it offered the same evaluation process for overhead vs. undergrounding projects that all other utilities in the state now use. The analysis will be available for public review six months before construction starts, with outreach mandated in affected communities in the early planning phases.
“This is not business as usual,” Falcone said.
In other news, trustees unanimously approved a plan to increase discounts for low-income customers. A current discount of about $5 for eligible customers will increase to $15, while low-income all-electric customers will see an increased discount to $20 a month from a current $10.
The $2.3 million plan, which will increase average bills for all customers by around $2 a year, also calls for automatic enrollment of customers in balanced billing, a grace period for re-enrollment in the discount program, and increased awareness programs.