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Nassau, Suffolk have no questions at LIPA rate-hike hearing

No questions, your honor.

Nassau and Suffolk counties, whose residents make up the vast majority of LIPA's 1.1 million customers, declined to participate in cross-examination of utility officials on the first day of the rate-hike proceedings Tuesday.

The proceedings, which took place at the Suffolk Legislature building in Hauppauge, continue Wednesday before two administrative law judges.

LIPA and PSEG are seeking to raise a cumulative $375 million in new revenue from ratepayers over three years, starting in 2016, down from an initially requested $441 million.

The state Department of Public Service, which is reviewing the rate request on behalf of ratepayers, has said the initial $441 million figure should be reduced to $275.8 million.

Earlier this month DPS acknowledged a calculation error in its original review, which had suggested reducing total new revenue to $47.8 million. The miscalculation wasn't mentioned at the proceeding, but in an interview PSEG attorney Bruce Miller said, "In any of these cases, the numbers are always changing."

Among municipalities, only New York City was at the table of interested parties, or interveners, who requested to cross-examine officials on the rate case. Jay Goodman, a lawyer for the city, focused his questions primarily on sea-level rise and storm hardening (the Rockaways, in Queens, which are in LIPA's service territory, were devastated by superstorm Sandy).

One Suffolk County employee, Joseph Schroeder, an energy specialist in the county legislature's budget office, attended the meetings but declined to comment. Two lawyers for Nassau County also attended, but did not sit at the main cross-examination table.

Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy, who has been critical of the rate hike, didn't attend the hearings. "I was going to rail at the process," not just the rate hike, he said, but was advised by a state attorney that those comments would have been beyond the scope of the proceedings. He said he intended to submit a brief in coming weeks reiterating his contention that the rate hike is "excessive."

Another critic of the rate hike, Nassau Comptroller George Maragos, also didn't attend. A spokesman said he hopes to be allowed to submit questions in person Wednesday.

Some residents at the hearing were surprised by the lack of pushback by local officials.

"I would love to understand why they were not asking questions," said Joan McCarty, a Long Island representative for the AARP, speaking of county and town officials. "They weren't even at the table."

AARP's 500,000 members on Long Island "can't afford this increase," added McCarty, of Medford.

Suffolk County Attorney Dennis Brown, a listed party in the proceedings, didn't respond to a call seeking comment.

David Ragonetti, deputy Nassau County attorney, said Nassau will submit general questions to PSEG Wednesday. He said the county had no questions for LIPA "at this time."

Because questions were so few, LIPA officials called for testimony made only a brief appearance, and left the proceedings immediately afterward.

All parties "were given opportunities to cross [examine] but they didn't," observed LIPA finance chief Tom Falcone, who acknowledged that there had been "extensive back and forth" between the utilities and parties in advance of the hearing.


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