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Suffolk lawmakers approve restart of LIPA oversight committee

The Suffolk Legislature last week approved a measure to reconstitute a committee to review the activities of the Long Island Power Authority, despite a top LIPA official's urging against it.

The measure revives a group that had held public hearings, reviewed LIPA operations and spending, and produced a report that criticized the authority. The committee, which had no authority to penalize LIPA, disbanded last year, just as the utility's powers were reduced by the state's LIPA Reform Act.

Days before the legislature's vote last week, LIPA CEO John McMahon, in a three-page letter, urged Suffolk lawmakers to reconsider restarting the oversight committee, in part because LIPA's role in running the electrical grid had been "substantially reduced," and the state had taken a larger oversight role. Under the Reform Act, the state Department of Public Service has a new "review and recommend" role at LIPA, without the ability to penalize it.

McMahon noted that many of LIPA's responsibilities were taken over by PSEG Long Island, and that the DPS had a primary oversight role.

"In fact, it's hard to imagine that there would be much of the proposed committee to 'study and analyze' related to LIPA that isn't already being done by the expert staff at the DPS LI or others," McMahon wrote.

In a note responding to LIPA, Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said he supported reconstituting the committee, in part because, among his constituents, "there is a level of distrust of LIPA."

The bill, sponsored by Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) calls for the appointment of six committee members, two with utility experience, two with energy experience, one familiar with LIPA and one from a civic organization. Cilmi said while the panel is called the LIPA Oversight Committee, the group will focus its work on PSEG Long Island and other LIPA contractors. "The legislature is a perfect place to be able to vet some of the stuff that's going on with LIPA and PSEG specifically," Cilmi said Monday. "People are really concerned about their bills, which increased dramatically once PSEG took over."

PSEG said high winter bills were the result of spikes in the cost of natural gas. PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said the utility was "taking a wait-and-see approach" to the committee "to see who they put on the committee and what tack they take."

Committee members haven't yet been named.

Cilmi said residents believed the state Public Service Commission and its DPS arm "are simply bureaucratic agencies unaccountable to anyone but the governor, so there's a lack of trust there."

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