Kaminsky: State Senate to hold hearings on utilities' storm response

Mark Harrington for Newsday

Originally published in Newsday

The State Senate will hold hearings on utilities’ response to Tropical Storm Isaias, including communications breakdowns by PSEG Long Island, Altice and Verizon, a senator said.

The hearings, tentatively scheduled for the week of Aug. 17, will focus on customer frustrations in getting through to utilities in the aftermath of the storm on Tuesday, and the inability of some to get service restored, said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who requested the joint Senate-Assembly hearings and will co-chair them.

PSEG has already drawn the ire of state and local officials, and thousands of ratepayers, some 88,000 of whom remained without power Saturday. Telephone, internet and text messaging have been down or spotty for many since the storm, and there were still areas across Long Island with downed wires and trees. 

“After this week’s fiasco, Long Islanders are sure of one thing: Our utilities are not prepared for the next storm,” Kaminsky said. “PSEG left hundreds of thousands in the dark, some of whom are still unable to get basic information about their status, and Altice (Optimum) and Verizon — who seem nowhere to be found — had their services completely tank as well.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has asked the state Department of Public Service to investigate, and local officials have asked for separate reviews. PSEG officials have said they would cooperate.

It’s not just Long Island utilities that will be the focus.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said: “Across the state we saw utilities fail and people lose power. ... This is unacceptable.”

“This hearing represents an important opportunity to get to the bottom of why our utilities failed, and to ensure they put practices in place so that Long Islanders do not have to relive this nightmare,” Kaminsky said. 

Asked about the planned hearings, PSEG Long Island president and chief operating officer Dan Eichhorn on Saturday said, “We will cooperate with every investigation and be transparent.”

He declined to comment on Kaminsky’s characterization of the utility’s response as a “fiasco.” 

“There has been a complete breakdown in the provision of utility service on Long Island," Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who will also participate in the hearings, said in a statement. “ ... I want to hear why this happened and what concrete steps will be taken to prevent anything like this from happening again.”

Kaminsky noted the Senate also will be requesting the Long Island Power Authority's appearance at the hearings “because it is their job to oversee PSEG-LI so that breakdowns like the one we are experiencing do not happen.” 

LIPA, in a statement Saturday night, said the authority “shares the concerns of our customers and will retain independent experts to review the root causes of the communications challenges experienced during Tropical Storm Isaias. We look forward to participating in the Senate’s hearing.”

Representatives for Altice and Verizon did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday evening.   

The statewide hearings will be held jointly before the Senate committees on environmental conservation, and energy and telecommunications, Kaminsky said. They will be co-chaired by Senate Energy and Telecommunications Chairman Kevin Parker and Kaminsky.

With David Olson