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LIPA trustees approve plan to hire outside consultants as needed arises

LIPA trustees Tuesday voted to approve a measure to hire outside consultants on an "as-needed" basis to represent the authority in regional energy markets and before a federal energy regulator.

The approval follows months of downsizing at the Long Island Power Authority in which the staff was cut to less than 50 and will drop another 20 percent next year. LIPA has been criticized for its consultant-hiring practices, including by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Moreland Commission. LIPA said it may need the consultants, even though PSEG Long Island will take over the "power markets" function the consultants were to perform, because LIPA must still represent itself before the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency.

In addition, LIPA may need consultants in regional energy markets if its position conflicts with that of PSEG, which has a PSEG Energy division that owns nuclear, fossil fuel, coal and renewable power plants.

The five-year contract with four separate consulting firms is valued at $1.25 million, LIPA said. It is separate from one in which LIPA is seeking consultants to assist with its primary oversight role.

The measure was approved by a 7-1 vote. Trustee Matthew Cordaro opposed. He recommended the authority consider retaining in-house experts to serve the regional power markets function, rather than outside firms, some of whom he said could have conflicts.

"I would strongly favor going the staff route," he said.

Trustee Jeff Greenfield, noting that the LIPA Reform Act "mandated a reduction in staff," said, "I don't think the choice is ours," in recommending trustees vote for consultants.

Trustee Marc Alessi was not present for the vote. He left after the trustees returned from a nonpublic executive session. Reached by phone shortly after he left, Alessi declined to say whether his departure was related to his criticism of LIPA and threat to sue the authority after learning the utility had approved a contract with a solar-energy developer for a 60-acre solar array in his community of Shoreham.

Alessi and hundreds of Shoreham residents, including Cordaro, say they learned of the project only last week. The contract with developer sPower was approved in 2013, sPower said.

Separately Tuesday, two state lawmakers said they will introduce a law to ban future use of utility poles treated with the "probable carcinogen" commonly known as penta.

The proposal takes aim at the wood preservative pentachlorophenol, which is banned, except for utility poles, railroad ties, and a few other uses. The measure is sponsored by Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

PSEG spokesman Jeffrey Weir didn't comment on the proposed law, but in a statement noted the poles "are treated with preservatives so that they can withstand the elements and last for decades."

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