Starting in January, Long Island electric customers will have a new venue to lodge complaints about their new utility.
The Department of Public Service will begin fielding customer complaints Jan. 1, according to a statement from the agency in response to Newsday questions. The move will coincide with PSEG-Long Island's takeover of most grid operations from current contractor National Grid.
The department said it expects to have 29 staffers dedicated to Long Island power issues by April 1, though not all will be in a Long Island office. Staff will be "phased in as responsibilities increase," and be backed up by DPS staff in New York City and Albany, the agency said.
The Department of Public Service website already has an online option to allow customers to register complaints about the new utility, at www.askpsc.com. Customers will also be able to call 800-342-3377.
Ratepayers currently lodge complaints with LIPA directly. Until year's end, if they aren't satisfied, they can contact the state Consumer Protection division of the Department of State. That arrangement is expected to end next year, but officials weren't available to confirm that.
By 2015, the Long Island DPS office will have 39 staffers, officials said.
The office will use a statewide call center to handle the complaints, the department said. To date, four Long Island office staffers "with more than 100 years of combined utility regulatory experience" will investigate and resolve them. The LIPA board will make ultimate decisions on some of those matters, if needed.
The staff will conduct an annual review of PSEG-LI's storm response plans. DPS will review LIPA rate cases starting in 2015.
In its audit of LIPA released in October, the Department of Public Service outlined a series of recommendations for LIPA that recognize the authority's oversight role and the need for more experienced utility personnel.
The agency will make sure PSEG-Long Island complies with the audit recommendations, will review its compliance with performance standards for customer satisfaction and evaluate the company's capital expenditure programs, according to DPS.
Even as LIPA cuts staff by half to about 50 by year's end, the DPS said it will help. "The department has worked with LIPA to review the roles and responsibilities of [DPS's] Long Island office," the agency said. LIPA and DPS "will have a vast amount of utility regulatory expertise to ensure customers receive the best possible service."