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First hearing pressures Long Island Power Authority to become fully public

Craig Ruttle

Community members shared their vision for a revamped electrical system on Tuesday at the first public hearing held by the Commission on the Future of the Long Island Power Authority.

The commission was formed in the last legislative session to transform LIPA into a fully public system following PSEG Long Island’s failures during Tropical Storm Isaias.

“When there was a storm, whether it was [Superstorm] Sandy or Isaias, I could never get an answer on those telephone calls with management,” State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, D-Sag Harbor, said, supporting the move to a public model.

“We’re the only region in the country that has a third-party management system," he continued. "It has failed time and time again, and in my opinion, it has failed because there's been a lack of proper oversight, a lack of transparency, and a lack of accountability.”

The Reimagine LIPA campaign consists of more than 40 community, environmental, faith, civil rights, social justice, and Indigenous groups. They are working to create an electrical system that will be operated by elected Long Islanders, instead of a hired utility company.

Residents from all over Long Island were each given five minutes to address the commission, which consists of four state senators and four Assembly members. Testimony shared ideas for the new LIPA, and almost all shared their discontent with the current system.

Eric Weltman, a senior organizer with Food and Water Watch, wants to see a more accountable power authority.

“LIPA must sever its relationship with PSEG, a company with a track record of failure and lies, and must move beyond the failed public-private model,” Weltman said. “This is our opportunity to establish new standards for accountability, equity, resilience, and democracy in our energy systems, and to fashion a LIPA that's equipped to meet these standards.”

Ryan Madden, a sustainability organizer with the Long Island Progressive Coalition, wants residents to have a power company that works for them.

“Privatization failed us, PSEG is failing us, and now is the time for the public to lead us in a new direction,” Madden said. “Across the country and here in New York, public power is cheaper, more reliable, and better able to transition to renewables. Coupled with democratic reforms, more equitable rate structures, and community oversight of the utility, LIPA can become a model for the nation.”

The next public hearing will be on Thursday, Dec. 15 at the Rockaway YMCA, 207 Beach 73rd Street, Arverne, New York 11692.

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