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Proposed LIPA, PSEG rate hike draws more questions, criticism

Suffolk County Legislature presiding officer DuWayne Gregory in

Suffolk County Legislature presiding officer DuWayne Gregory in an undated photo. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The Suffolk Legislature's presiding officer has weighed in against large portions of LIPA and PSEG's proposed average 3.2 percent rate hike, as a state regulator continued to push for reductions and Brookhaven Town raised new questions about the process.

In a brief filed on behalf of the county, Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) took issue with the way the hike would affect most residential customers, through a doubling of the fixed service charge to $20 a month by 2018. He requested PSEG present an "accurate and complete picture" of electric rates and offer an online calcu-lator to break down "the entire bill for a variety of electric rates" to "increase transparency."

He also asked the utilities to scuttle their plan to eliminate seasonal and special water- and space-heating rates as part of the rate proceeding.

"By removing the benefit of reduced electric rates, thousands of consumers will incur significant and unavoidable cost increases," the legislator said in filings with state administrative law judges overseeing the case.

PSEG Long Island and LIPA seek to collect $375 million in new revenue through three years of rate increases of between 3 percent and 3.4 percent, excluding the impact of fuel and related costs. The request has been subjected to a "review and recommend" proceeding with the state Department of Public Service, which wants the utilities to lower their request by $85 million.

PSEG says the difference between what DPS wants and what PSEG is proposing is just between $10 million and $20 million on a year-over-year basis. "The proposal we put forward will ensure that our customers will have the electric system they deserve," PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said, calling the rate hike "modest."

But some are questioning that analysis and the process. In a separate filing, Brookhaven Town accused PSEG of "grossly misleading" calculations that did not properly account for the cumulative impact of the rate increases, citing a $124 million calculation error by DPS last month as evidence.

It accused PSEG of "continuing to promote the type of grossly misleading (if not outright inaccurate) 'math' in presenting the 3-year rate plan increase in the same confusing manner which so confounded the DPS-LI that it was required to 'revise' its initial objections, due to a self-acknowledged 'mechanical error.' "

Brookhaven wants state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to review the rate increase proposal. DiNapoli last week issued a report that sharply criticized LIPA's increasing debt load and the quest for higher rates.

PSEG in a response filed with the state accused Brookhaven of "distorting the facts" and said the town's request that DiNapoli conduct a review of the rate case was outside the scope of the law. It also noted DiNapoli's recent report on LIPA "does not indicate any inclination on the part of the comptroller" to conduct a LIPA rate review.

DPS Long Island director Julia Bovey said, "The LIPA Reform Act gave DPS unprecedented oversight of PSEG LI to ensure transparency and reliable, efficient and affordable service on Long Island. That is what this rate review is all about."

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