© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Long Island moves closer to a publicly owned electric utility with proposed bill

electric power lines
Chris Hunkeler

New York lawmakers are considering a bill that would create a legislative commission to convert the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) into a fully public agency. That means LIPA would manage the regional electricity grid directly instead of contracting a utility company to service customers.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele of Sag Harbor introduced the legislation to develop a plan for a new public utility by 2025.

“It’s been a failure,” he said of the current system, “and the people of Long Island deserve better. So public power and having a governance structure that would be accountable to the people of Long Island, we feel, is the best way to go.”

LIPA explored a fully public model when its service provider, PSEG Long Island, left 400,000 customers without power for a week following Tropical Storm Isaias last year.

“LIPA issued its analysis of business model alternatives in April,” a spokesperson said. “We welcome review and will implement the findings of the governor, Legislature and stakeholders on the model that will best deliver clean, reliable and customer-first electric service to Long Island.”

Its board of trustees will consider approving a reformed, $80 million contract with the utility company at next week’s meeting.

The new contract includes more than 100 recommended changes, including upgrading PSEG-Long Island’s outdated storm communication system. The utility company will face more penalties and new strict requirements for long-term oversight of planning, budgeting and management. LIPA also has the ability to terminate the contract early, and withhold up to $40 million each year as punishment.

If the bill passes, the legislative commission will conduct research and share its findings when the contract ends in 2025.

“This is really the process to develop that roadmap,” said Ryan Madden, sustainability coordinator with the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “LIPA has made it clear that they are not going to do this on their own and need the buy-in from the [state Legislature].”

Advocates believe a public agency would save about $1 billion over 10 years from management fees that can be used to improve services, climate-related resiliency and more programs to reduce rates for low-income residents, seniors and people with disabilities.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.