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New York lawmakers weigh a budget plan for a fully public Long Island electric utility

electric power lines
Chris Hunkeler

The New York State Legislature included in its budget proposals a measure that would create a state committee that would explore restructuring the Long Island Power Authority.

State Assemblymember Fred Thiele proposed that $2 million be spent to determine if LIPA could manage the island’s electric grid themselves, instead of contracting PSEG Long Island to do the job for them.

The proposal would create a commission to explore the first steps in forming a fully public LIPA, a change that they said would make power distribution in the region more transparent and effective. The commission would include eight members tasked with exploring models of governance, labor contracts and renewable investments.

Electric customers have been critical of PSEG Long Island since Tropical Storm Isaias in 2020, which left 400,000 households on Long Island without power for a week. LIPA, which is a public regulator, had a contract with the private utility company PSEG Long Island.

After the storm, residents attended public hearings to protest the ineffective service they were receiving. LIPA explored whether to replace its service contract with a different utility, but renewed its relationship with PSEG Long Island — with significant changes made to penalize poor performance, including a quicker way to break the contract.

Gaughran blasted LIPA in his proposal, saying it was time for change.

“After years of failed leadership by LIPA and for-profit mega corporations, it is clear: Long Islanders deserve public power,” Gaughran said. “Inclusion of this commission in the Senate and Assembly one-house budgets is the first step to municipalization Long Island's power grid and bringing affordable, reliable power to the island.”

Thiele took issue with the lack of transparency between LIPA, PSEG Long Island and the public. Thiele said Long Island’s situation is uniquely antiquated, and poses a big problem for its residents.

“We’re the only entity in the United States that has this model,” Thiele said. “It’s a model that doesn’t work.”

Thiele said he did not expect any pushback from the Legislature. The proposals await approval from Governor Kathy Hochul. A budget agreement is due April 1. If approved, the committee would have until April 2023 to report their findings.

“Every member of the Long Island delegation has signed on to bipartisan sponsorship for this legislation,” Thiele said. “Both the state Assembly and the state Senate have indicated their support for the creation of a legislative commission to study the future of LIPA. What remains is to convince the governor that this should be part of the budget.”

Then, it will be up to voters to decide if they want to change to a public power model. Any changes would take place at the end of LIPA’s current contract with PSEG Long Island in 2025.

Ryan Madden, a sustainability organizer at the Long Island Progressive Coalition, said LIPA distributing electricity themselves would make energy more reliable and accountable, as well as a welcomed push toward greener energy.

“I think it's the only logical pathway forward,” Madden said. “The public/private model is absolutely unattainable, unreliable and unaffordable, and across the country we see some of the most progressive adoptions of renewable energy with the public power system when you remove profit from the system and are just clear on what needs to happen.”

LIPA spokeswoman Jen Hayen said the organization is open to the process.

"LIPA most recently evaluated alternative management structures for our assets following PSEG Long Island’s failed performance during Tropical Storm Isaias," Hayen said. "LIPA will support the work of the Legislative Commission, should the study move forward, and is open to the Commission’s findings as to the arrangement that is in the best interest of our customers on Long Island and in the Rockaways."

Molly is a reporter covering Fairfield County. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.