Long Island Power Authority officials estimate the cost of restoring power to about half of its 1.1 million customers after Irene hit the Island last month is about $176 million.
LIPA’s board made the announcement Friday after receiving an assessment by contractor National Grid. The majority of the bill is eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement but ratepayers will likely be stuck with the remainder of the tab.
“I think we knew going into it, it was going to be expensive,” Michael Hervey, chief operating officer of LIPA, said at the utility’s monthly board meeting in Uniondale. “Obviously we would like to keep rates as stable as possible.”
He said a review of the utility’s performance will not become clear for six to eight weeks. The utility contracted 3,500 crews from out of state to help restore power and put them up in hotels.
Hurricane Irene was a nearly 300-mile-wide category one hurricane that was downgraded to a tropical storm shortly before it made landfall in Brooklyn in the early morning hours of Aug. 28. Forty four deaths were blamed on the storm across the East Coast, including a windsurfer in Bellport Bay.
Powerful winds and rains downed thousands of trees across LI, knocking out power to more than a half a million homes and businesses. It took workers about a week to fully restore power.
It was the worst storm and biggest cleanup for the utility since Hurricane Gloria hit the Island in 1985.
By contrast, preparations last summer for Hurricane Earl, which was on track to hit LI but veered east upon final approach, cost the utility $30 million. Other storms last year put the total bill at more than $200 million.
“Ultimately it does come back to the customers but you know, can we do it inside our current rate system is the question,” Hervey said. “Do we have to adjust rates to absorb it?”
LIPA trustees also said they will continue to review restoration and communication efforts after thousands were left in the dark and had to rely on candles and flashlights to light their homes during the widespread outages.
The communication review will be led by LIPA trustee Cristofer Damianos, who said he will look at call center issues after the utility received a high volume of calls from frustrated customers who wanted to know when power would be restored.
There will also be an extensive look into its website, and alternative ways for LIPA to get in contact with ratepayers, specifically through e-mail and text messages, Damianos said.
Also addressed at the meeting was the feasibility of placing systems underground and out of the reach of fallen trees. One trustee suggested “undergrounding” systems near police precincts, hospitals and schools. But that could prove to costly for the utility which is already millions in debt.
But the main issue of the day, and what customers care more about, is cost, and how LIPA will pay for out-of-state crews and hundreds of hours of overtime accrued last month.
“I have no appetite for a rate increase,” said LIPA Chairman Howard Steinberg.
-With Associated Press