Power lines in Melville. A state panel formed to explore the...

Power lines in Melville. A state panel formed to explore the future of the Long Island Power Authority recruited representatives from a flawed Arizona "people owned" utility. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

To help make the case that the Long Island Power Authority should take total control of maintaining, repairing, and strengthening Long Island’s electric grid, a state commission formed to explore the utility’s future recruited representatives from an Arizona power authority.

Members of the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District (SRP) spoke during a recent hearing in East Rockaway to demonstrate that a “people-owned” power authority could function competently. The suggestion was that SRP could be a model to be emulated by LIPA if a decision was made to municipalize the utility and eliminate the role of PSEG Long Island in operating and managing the transmission and distribution of electricity.

To the commission’s credit, it certainly found a genuine “people’s” power authority to present to the debate — a model for electing LIPA trustees to make the body more responsive to the public.

Providing that you own property.

On the public utility’s website, one finds that elections for SRP’s various district councils that represent ratepayers are solely for landowners in those districts. If you are one of the nearly 600,000 people estimated to rent in that part of the nation, you are effectively disenfranchised from participating in the “people’s power authority.”

One can perhaps attribute this to SRP’s founding back in the 1930s when racism, whether obvious or subtle, was woven into our society. Nevertheless, even today the “people’s power authority” remains rather particular about who will have the franchise to vote for their public energy representatives. No doubt, one can safely assume that renters are still responsible for their electric bills, even if they have been disenfranchised from participating in these elections.

This potential Arizona model for LIPA’s future governance has kept the lawyers busy because of decisions it made over how the power was to be generated. SRP was the subject of litigation by a solar panel company after the utility imposed a high fee on residential and corporate consumers who installed rooftop solar panels on their homes and businesses. The solar company said that resulted in a 96% drop in applications for new solar systems. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court before the parties settled.

Aside from the fact that this Arizona utility has never faced a hurricane, winter nor’easter, or downed ice-encrusted trees on winding North Shore roads, nor maneuvered in one of the most densely populated regions of the nation, the commission insisted at its East Rockaway hearing that SRP is a model worthy of emulating on Long Island.

In the commission’s quest to make a convincing case that LIPA should be responsible for keeping the lights on, its members need to think long and hard about whom they ask to stand by their side in making the case. A public utility with elected advisers who are chosen only by homeowners and landowners would disenfranchise thousands of the people LIPA has pledged to serve.

If this is the best example the commission can provide, Long Islanders have a valid reason to question more than just its choice of allies.


n THIS GUEST ESSAY reflects the views of Sermo Barracks, a resident of West Hempstead who works in the commercial aviation industry.

This guest essay reflects the views of Sermo Barracks, a resident of West Hempstead who works in the commercial aviation industry.

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