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Assembly to hold hearing on LIPA's new contract with PSEG

PSEG truck in Commack on July 2, 2019.

PSEG truck in Commack on July 2, 2019. Credit: James Carbone

Ratepayers who were surprised by LIPA’s decision to renew its contract with PSEG after months of castigating its contractor will get the chance to ask what happened at a planned state hearing in August.

Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) will host the in-person public meeting of the Assembly Energy Committee on Aug. 9 at 10:30 A.M. at Brookhaven Town Hall.

Englebright said the meeting will focus on exactly how LIPA went from PSEG’s chief public critic to once-again partner only days after criticizing the company and its officials during a trustee meeting in June. PSEG operates the Long Island electric grid for LIPA.

"We certainly want to find out how they went from a reasonable position of being critical of the PSEG response to almost every crisis they had, to renewing a relationship," Englebright said. "I think Long Island for the sake of its future really needs to have a little more insight into whether the LIPA trustees are the decision makers or whether they are just awaiting instructions from somewhere."

A source close to the negotiations said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo intervened in negotiations over the June 25-27 weekend with a top PSEG official in New Jersey to reach an agreement that essentially met all LIPA’s demands, including greater autonomy from the New Jersey parent, more at-risk payments for failure to meet performance metrics, and payments and credits amounting to $30 million to settle LIPA’s breach-of-trust lawsuit.

LIPA said it is "always happy to respond to questions and will reach out to the Assembly. We have been very transparent about what we’ve done and why we’ve done it."

A spokesman for Cuomo didn't return a message seeking comment.

Englebright said he will invite LIPA trustees and officials to the meeting. "I anticipate ratepayers will have a chance to question executives and officials to learn more about how this apparent decision was rendered," he said.

Englebright was among 14 state lawmakers from Long Island who signed a letter to Cuomo in April demanding that LIPA terminate its relationship with PSEG and begin the process of becoming a full public utility. LIPA itself made a strong case for so-called full-municipalization, saying it could save upward of $80 million a year and give Long Island greater control of its electric utility. LIPA’s existing structure would require that the existing 2,400 employees switch over to LIPA management.

"This is akin to Lucy snatching away the football at the last moment," Englebright said of LIPA’s decision to stick with PSEG. LIPA "snatched away from Long Island the opportunity to guide its own utility and energy destiny," Englebright said. "Our public ends up paying for it."

Those interested in registering for the in-person public hearing can write to the Assembly committee at thomasmj@nyassembly.gov.

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