Long Island Power Authority Chief Financial Officer Michael Taunton filled in Nassau’s local officials about the utility’s new contract with New Jersey based PSE&G at Tuesday’s Nassau County Village Officials Association meeting.
But Taunton would not address questions about LIPA’s response to Hurricane Sandy, citing ongoing legal proceedings and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland commission investigation into the storm recovery.
LIPA, which currently contracts with National Grid to provide power to Long Island, will be entering a new 10-year contract with PSE&G next year, Taunton said.
And though LIPA’s future is uncertain, with the state considering privatization or turning it into a full-service public utility, Taunton said the new contract would provide quality service to customers.
“Whether we decide to privatize or municipalize, we’ve set up for a very easy transition,” Taunton said. “We now have PSE&G people sitting next to LIPA and National Grid people working on how to transition to this new business model.”
LIPA, which was originally created to absorb the debt-ridden Long Island Lighting Company following the cancellation of the Shorham nuclear power plant, does not manage electrical and gas transmission - rather, it contracts those services out to utilities.
Taunton said that should the state privatize or municipalize LIPA, it would have to decide how to handle the remainder of the contract with PSE&G, including the possibility of a settlement.
Taunton said the shift from National Grid to PSE&G would lead to the hiring of between 100 and 125 workers on Long Island.
“We will actually be bringing back jobs,” Taunton said.
Taunton declined to discuss Sandy, but acknowledged areas where LIPA could improve in storm response.
“We want to become more transparent,” he said. “One of the things we learned from prior storms is we’ve done a poor job communicating.”
Great Neck Parks District Commissioner Dan Nachmanoff questioned why LIPA was needed if it relied on other utilities to manage power lines, and Garden City Mayor Donald Brudie asked Taunton why LIPA would not become a full-service utility.
Taunton said that LIPA “basically exists to oversee the contracts,” and said that the new agreement would provide customer service and reliability to PSE&G to encourage better performance.
Taunton also said PSE&G would communicate directly with customers, unlike in the current deal with National Grid. Officials and residents expressed frustration during Sandy’s aftermath with their inability to directly communicate with National Grid, whose workers were directly responsible for fixing power lines.
Another village official pressed Taunton to give a specific number of line and tree workers that would be dedicated to Long Island, and expressed frustration when Taunton could not produce a specific number at the meeting.
“For some reason, LIPA refuses to give us the complement of people,” the official said.