As state Assemb. Robert Sweeney considers broadening his demand for greater scrutiny of LIPA in talks with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, he may need to look no further than a Lynbrook couple to help make his case.
Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) this week said his office has had "productive" recent meetings with Cuomo's staff on regulatory oversight of LIPA, including measures that go beyond his proposal that would mandate Public Service Commission review of rate increases over 2.5 percent.
"We might expand the oversight to more than a rate review," he said to include scrutiny of LIPA rate-making, expenditures and other issues.
A Cuomo spokesman confirmed the meetings. "The governor's office looks forward to continuing to work with the legislature on reforming LIPA," said spokesman Joshua Vlasto.
Sweeney reacted with outrage when told of the case of another Long Island couple who have been wrongly billed as a commercial customer for what may have been decades. Commercial customers pay a slightly higher rate and sales tax.
Sal and Ruth Mazzaro of Lynbrook, a retired couple on public assistance, said they learned in March of the billing error for both their National Grid gas bill and their LIPA electric bills. After calling both companies, they were given credits going back two months -- for $72.38 on the gas bill and $13.09 on the LIPA bill. The Mazzaros have been in their home for 44 years.
Because National Grid runs the LIPA system, the Mazzaros received almost identical letters from the two utilities, both signed by the same customer service rep. LIPA's rule book says it should go back six years when billing errors are found in a customer's favor.
Sal Mazzaro said he was unhappy with the refunds, but discovered only one -- the National Grid issue -- can be pursued by the state Public Service Commission. LIPA doesn't come under PSC jurisdiction. "I called the PSC, they said they can't do anything about LIPA. I said, 'Then who do I talk to?' They didn't answer me. This is like a nightmare."
National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said: "We are looking into the Mazzaro matter further to find a resolution."
In a statement, LIPA said it was reviewing the billing issue and sought "to resolve the issue fairly and appropriately."
LIPA spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter, in a prepared statement, said, "While the customer did not request LIPA to reconsider the refund provided to them, LIPA has commenced a review of the billing issue and will contact the customer directly to resolve the issue fairly and appropriately."
Robert Cassandro, an attorney who specializes in energy matters, said customers such as the Mazzaros are entitled to at least six years of refunds, plus interest, for both gas and electric. Customers typically are offered two years, but Cassandro called that "wrong.