Isaias Failure, Blizzard Disaster In Texas Puts Pressure On Long Island Utilities To Reform

Feb 23, 2021

Growing support for a public option to power Long Island is expected to lead talks before the deadline of any utility contract next month.

Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) will choose whether to renew its contract with PSEG Long Island after the utility company’s failed response to Tropical Storm Isaias last summer. LIPA is also considering a new contract with a different company or restructuring the quasi-public company as a fully public authority. That would shift control of energy distribution to LIPA.

“We truly believe that a LIPA that prioritizes equity, community, workers and meaningful democratic participation can raise all boats and prepare us for our future on this land,” said Lisa Tyson, the director of Long Island Progressive Coalition, during a forum hosted by the group on Monday.

The forum, which shared the progressive group’s plan for “reimagining LIPA”, preceded a LIPA Board of Trustees meeting to be held at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday. The group said several trustees were on their call, as well as local officials and members of advocacy groups.

LIPA released a report in November that said the public option is an attractive alternative to renewing their contract with PSEG or contracting with another energy company.

The switch would save the company up to $75 million per year compared to their contract with PSEG Long Island, the report said. Some of that money would be invested in renewable energy and lower rates. The report said the New York State Legislature would need to take action to make the switch — a six month transition period that could cost up to $105 million.

The New York State Senate passed 10 bills on Tuesday to address utilities’ failures to prepare and respond to storms. Senator Jim Gaughran of Huntington said more oversight, transparency and accountability is needed to control PSEG-Long Island and LIPA. The legislation would allow more strict regulation and penalties for the utility service provider.

“Tropical Storm Isaias illuminated the problems LIPA’s critics have been vocalizing for years,” Gaughran said in a statement. “LIPA’s failures culminated in PSEG-LI’s disastrous Tropical Storm Isaias storm response that resulted in more than 600,000 power outages amid a pandemic and a summer heat wave.… In a modern society, there is no reason for rogue utilities to remain unchecked.”

A LIPA investigation found that PSEG Long Island mismanaged its response to Isaias and failed to communicate to customers it’s timeline to restore power.

“Are we ready for more storms? Do we have the systems to keep the power on and the people safe? And the answer is: no,” Tyson said, who compared the region being left in the dark after Isaias to a blizzard last week devastated Texas and nearby states.

“The story of Texas is not about oil and gas supplies alone, or even breaking pipes,” she continued. “It’s about the corporate greed that led the state into this disaster. We have seen that corporate greed here with our utilities as well.”

The group said Long Island’s current model of energy distribution is unsustainable in the long term with only 28% of energy coming from renewable sources.

“Texas is just the horrifying latest example and a series of catastrophes that have caused catastrophic system collapse in a lot of different places across this country,” panelist Michael Menser, who researches urban sustainability at Brooklyn College and is president of the Participatory Budgeting Project, which looks at how public money is spent.

LIPA’s transition should be informed by climate scientists to study climate change impacts on Long Island, said panelist Eleanor Stein, an adjunct professor of climate change law and justice at SUNY Albany. The group also advocated for the creation of an advisory group to increase accountability for LIPA. It would partner with state colleges and universities and the New York Energy Policy Institute.

The deadline for LIPA’s decision to renegotiate or exit their contract with PSEG is expected by the end of March.