Seniors expressed concern about the growing lack of affordability of electric service on Long Island. Union officials representing 1,450 PSEG Long Island workers said the utilities' proposed 4 percent annual rate-hike plan sounded fine to them.
One public official took aim at LIPA's rising debt, while another bemoaned what he called a continuation of the utility's "old management and operating philosophies." A school official who wants to see a new power plant built in his district expressed concern that PSEG was laying the groundwork to import energy from its own New Jersey plants.
A cross section of the concerned and the self-interested made their way to podiums from Riverhead to Rockaway last week to weigh in on LIPA and PSEG's proposed three-year rate request.
PSEG has called the 4 percent annual increase, which will raise more than $440 million in new revenue over three years, "modest." Over three years, ratepayers will see their delivery charge increase about 12 percent, primarily through a doubling of the daily service charge from its current $10.80 to $20 in 2018.
'Open and transparent'
PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir, in a statement, called the proceedings "the most open and transparent" local customers have ever had. He said the increase was needed "to invest in systems, technology, maintenance and tree trimming."
At a hearing Wednesday in Mineola, George Maragos, the Nassau County comptroller, called PSEG's plan "almost embarrassing" for its lack of both cost-reduction initiatives and improved productivity.
"For this poor performance and lack of vision, PSEG has included in the budget for itself a 60 percent performance fee increase" to $73 million, he noted. The increase was negotiated in 2013. "We recommend that the proposed rate increase request be denied and PSEG be requested to present a new budgetary plan that demonstrates a higher management capability."
Nassau County, like Suffolk, has not filed to be a formal interested party in the rate case, though Maragos said he's considering it. New York City has an interest because of PSEG Queens customers in the Rockaways.
Numerous representatives of AARP read statements at most of the hearings telling the Department of Public Service, which ran the sessions, that "affordability of electric services continues to be a concern given that our rates are among the highest" in the nation.
Taking issue with a bill
AARP took particular issue with PSEG and LIPA sticking ratepayers with the $4.4 million bill to prepare their three-year, 4 percent annual rate hike.
While "pleased" that PSEG plans to increase a discount for low-income customers, the group noted that it's "not only consumers who are classified as low income that are feeling the strain" and urged the state to take overall affordability into consideration.
Union leadership and members of local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers turned out in force to the hearings in support of the increase. "We believe that this rate plan is a sound investment in the future of Long Island and the Rockaways," organizer Patrick Guidice said at the Mineola hearing, echoing officials at other hearings. The union's contract with PSEG expires in November 2016.
Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), in a statement read by an aide at the Riverhead hearing, took issue with the increased debt LIPA would take on as a result of the rate case, among other things, in calling for the hike to be rejected.
"This proposal would saddle Long Island with the highest debt level in the history of LIPA," he noted, of the planned $8.2 billion in debt by 2019. "PSEG Long Island would again mortgage Long Island's future with debt."
Some deeper protests
Several speakers used the hearing to raise deeper protests than higher rates. Manorville activist Peter Maniscalco kicked off a Riverhead hearing by declaring the meeting "illegal" and demanding it be "suspended immediately" because the LIPA Reform Act itself was unlawful, he charged. The meeting went on as planned.
Daniel Tomaszewski, president of the Longwood school district, said he was "troubled" by the proposed rate hike, calling it "hardly modest."
Noting his support for a proposed Yaphank power plant called Caithness II, Tomaszewski said, "I also worry that PSEG is deceiving ratepayers like me by asking us to pay for more power from PSEG's plants in New Jersey and Connecticut," rather than a new Long Island plant. Longwood would get tax payments if the Caithness II plant were built.
Terese Kinsley, chief sustainability officer with the Town of Huntington, at a LIPA hearing Wednesday, took issue with PSEG's plan to begin charging a $100 a month penalty fee for nonresidential customers for each month the utility can't access their meter. Many town facilities that house the meters are locked or indoors, and the utility doesn't give advance notice of meter readings, she said.
Customers who couldn't make it to the hearings can send an email to the Department of Public Service at firstname.lastname@example.org.