Senate to consider bills seeking more oversight over LIPA, PSEG's storm prep

Mark Harrington for Newsday

February 23, 2021

Originally published in Newsday on February 23, 2021.

The State Senate will take up four new laws aimed at improving and more clearly defining LIPA and PSEG's preparation for and response to storms, officials said Monday.

One of the bills would require service providers like PSEG Long Island to file an annual compensation statement with the state. Currently, no PSEG executive salaries are publicly disclosed.

The bills have already moved through committees and could come up for a Senate vote as soon as late Tuesday, said Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), who is sponsoring one measure that would require LIPA to submit an emergency response plan to the PSC annually for review and approval. PSEG, which manages the Long Island grid under contract, currently prepares and updates an annual storm response plan for LIPA, but was sharply criticized for failing to properly respond to Tropical Storm Isaias, when storm computer and phone systems failed, leaving more than 535,000 customers without power, some for more than a week. LIPA has since discovered the systems had been plagued by problems weeks or months before the storm, that PSEG had no working "business continuity" plan, and is now considering terminating its contract with PSEG.

"The purpose of the bill is to give some teeth" to the PSC to force changes in the response plan if it’s not adequate, Gaughran said. An Assembly version is sponsored by Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor).

LIPA chief executive Tom Falcone said nearly all of the scores of reforms LIPA itself is seeking will be determined by new contract terms and LIPA's enforcement of existing ones. But, he said, "Generally speaking the bills all focus on needed [reforms to] statewide problems. We're happy to work with the legislature on the bills."

Gaughran described his bill as "the beginning of a change in attitude by our government to give the PSC more authority and power because LIPA doesn’t have the traditional oversight powers." The state Department of Public Service has only "review and recommend" involvement over LIPA.

The bill to increase transparency into executive pay is sponsored by Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who in the past has raised concerns and questioned PSEG Long Island’s top official about his salary during state legislative hearings following the storm. PSEG isn’t required to publicly disclose salaries, even though top LIPA and other state officials must.

"It's a stunning lack of transparency on their part," Kaminsky said of PSEG's refusal to disclose. Its contract with LIPA doesn't require it.

Kaminsky’s legislation would require a compensation statement to be filed by the utility or service providers with the PSC every year. The bill would apply to all service providers with over $1 million in revenue from the state, including New York American Water.

The reimbursement bill of Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hempstead) would set rules for how a utility "shall reimburse" a residential consumer or small business when electric service is out for least 48 hours after the end of a "failure of equipment, weather event, natural disaster, or any other disruption to the provision of services," Kaplan aide Sean Collins said in an email.

The medical care list bill would create a definition for "medical needs" with a "realistic list of situations that demand priority restoration in an emergency to prevent rapid and significant decline in a person’s health and well-being," Kaplan's office said. She's introduced a separate bill that would provide those with a "documented need for electrical service to maintain their physical health and well-being" with an "alternate source of power or other accommodations in the event that service cannot be restored within a 24 hour period."