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LIPA trustees to get Cuomo plan briefing Friday

LIPA has started work on a $6.5-million transmission-line

LIPA has started work on a $6.5-million transmission-line upgrade to deal with growing power demands on the East End. (Aug. 29, 2011) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Long Island Power Authority trustees, whose positions would be eliminated under proposed legislation by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, are scheduled to meet with an administration official Friday for a briefing about the bill.

Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, will address the trustees Friday morning at LIPA's Uniondale headquarters. Originally scheduled to meet with Schwartz in March, the trustees have repeatedly expressed frustration that they've never been formally briefed on the governor's plan, while business groups and others have been.

Larry Waldman, chairman of the trustees, said they are "anxious to ask many questions," including the scope of the new contract with PSEG, the New Jersey company that Cuomo wants to fully run LIPA.

Waldman, who joined the LIPA board in 2008 and took the chairman's post in December, said he has no objection to the governor's plan to eliminate the 15-seat board in December. In fact, he said, he'd support eliminating the board "sooner rather than later," and replacing it with a new five-member board. "If that's what the future is, we ought to get on with it right away," he said Wednesday.

At least two other trustees said they have concerns about the legislation that mirror and expand upon questions raised by members of the Assembly in a Newsday story Wednesday, including the need for more oversight.

Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) worries that the bill would leave LIPA ratepayers with less oversight than exists today, at a time when customers and lawmakers have been demanding more. He also is concerned that the bill is silent on rate stability, commitments to renewable energy and the need for public hearings before a vote. "Giving the public an opportunity to weigh in [on the bill] is crucial," he said.

Matthew Wing, a Cuomo spokesman, said lawmakers' demands for a greater role for the Public Service Commission than the bill proposes would send rates soaring because it would violate LIPA bond covenants. As for ratepayers, he said, "The administration is planning to hold public hearings."

LIPA trustee Neal Lewis said he's concerned the law doesn't mandate commitments to maintain energy efficiency and renewable programs at LIPA. And he's worried that the bill's plan to reduce the current board from 15 seats to five "pretty much establishes this as a rubber stamp, do-nothing board," he said. He suggested keeping LIPA on its current contractual path with PSEG rather than an expanded role and legislation.

Countered Wing: "LIPA is broken and continuing the failed status quo would be the worst option for Long Island ratepayers."

Trustee Matthew Cordaro said, "In its present form, I do not support the bill because it doesn't protect ratepayers' interests."

The administration has lined up a long list of business and environmental groups that support the legislation. They include the Long Island Association, the Long Island Board of Realtors and Sustainable Long Island.

But other local groups are expressing opposition. "We have a lot of questions about this bill and cannot support it at this time," said Lisa Tyson, executive director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, an activist group.

Shelly Sackstein, chairman of Action Long Island, a business group, and vice chairman of the Suffolk Legislature's LIPA Oversight Committee, said, "I'm deeply concerned that something that's going to determine the energy future of Long Island for decades to come is going to be decided in 20 days." He added, "We're mobilizing."

With Paul LaRocco

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