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PSEG Long Island logs performance gains, report says

A PSEG Long Island crew is seen at

A PSEG Long Island crew is seen at work on July 10, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

PSEG Long Island made gains in a broad range of performance metrics in 2017, but fell short on one critical measure of reliability, according to a recently released report.

The utility, which operates Long Island’s electric grid under a long-term contract with LIPA, far exceeded benchmarks for speed in answering customer calls and the complaint rate per 100,000 customers — which at 4.9 was tied for the lowest in the state, officials said.

Its score on JD Power customer satisfaction surveys also rose.

But for the second year in a row, the utility missed at least one of three reliability metrics related to outages.

The company’s performance for the average frequency of outages customers experience in a year came in at 0.95. That was just under the LIPA target of 0.92, although an improvement from last year’s score of 1.11.

PSEG in 2016 also missed a measure of outage duration, but met that standard in 2017, according to the utility’s performance report.

The results mean that utility will be eligible for most but not all the $8.7 million in extra incentive pay it can receive under its LIPA contract. Last year, PSEG received $8 million of the total $8.7 million, with a $700,000 reduction for missing two reliability metrics. The company also receives a $58 million annual management fee.

LIPA officials and board members at a trustees meeting Wednesday generally praised the company’s performance in the year-end report, particularly the reduction in workplace accidents.

But they also took note of the missed outage frequency metric and said they would monitor PSEG’s performance with an expectation of improvement.

LIPA chief Tom Falcone blamed the outage frequency problem in part on the large amount of construction and system storm-hardening work taking place across the grid, funded by $730 million in federal aid.

“When you have such a large construction program, you’re taking some outages related to the construction,” Falcone said.

PSEG Long Island president Daniel Eichhorn said increases in the company’s JD Power customer satisfaction score specifically related to reliability show that “we’re working on the right stuff” in keeping customers satisfied with reliability. For 2017, the JD Power overall residential score was 662, an increase from the 513 LIPA scored in 2013.

Average system outages lasted 65.8 minutes in 2017, compared with 75.5 minutes in 2016, meeting the LIPA standard. Another system reliability metric that combines other reliability scores also was within the standard.

PSEG reduced the time of answering phone calls when customers request to speak to an agent to 19 seconds, down from 24 seconds in 2016. The wait was 93 seconds under LIPA’s previous contractor in 2013.

In 2017, customers also completed some 7.8 million transactions using PSEG automated services such as electronic payment. That’s up from 6.67 million in 2016 and 5.16 million in 2013.

Also at the board meeting, solar companies continued to express concerns about LIPA’s plan to launch a new system for valuing solar energy in May. They said the new system, which will primarily affect commercial installations, could impact a growing business.

Their complaints come as the federal government prepares to enact new tariffs on Chinese and South Korean solar panels. Mike Bailis, co-founder of SUNation Solar Systems in Hauppauge, said the move will hike solar system costs and increase the amount of time it takes businesses to recoup their investment.

Bailis showed calculations that a typical commercial solar system will take some 2.9 years longer to pay for itself through savings because of recently enacted tariffs and LIPA’s new solar pricing model.

Also, ratepayers who live around the Island Park-based E.F. Barrett power plant urged LIPA to forgo a court challenge to reduce the taxes on the power plant. Falcone had noted earlier that the facility, like other aging National Grid plants, is used less and less each year.

“You have a social and moral obligation to the community that hosts your power plants,” said Richard Schurin, noting residents put up with pollution and other ills from the plants. “I think you are breaking that moral and social contract.”

The first trial is set to begin May 2, when LIPA challenges the $80 million in taxes LIPA pays annually for the Northport plant.

Falcone in a presentation said the taxes are on target to increase to more than $100 million by 2030. He listed a “fair” tax amount of $3.7 million annually. But he said the utility has proposed an 8-year settlement tax of some $40 million while forgoing a refund of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.

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