U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called for the Long Island Power Authority to work with their new contractor, Public Service Enterprise Group, to be better prepared for storm damage like LI saw last summer following Tropical Storm Irene.
Nearly half of LIPA’s 1.1 million customers lost electricity of their homes or place of business after the August storm. For some, the outages lasted more than a week while crews scrambled to repair the damage.
“Three days without power is difficult, five days is unbearable, nine days is totally unacceptable,” Schumer said Monday at a news conference in Wantagh.
Schumer resurrected the issue after New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli signed off on the contract between LIPA and PSEG last week. PSEG is slated to replace National Grid, LIPA’s current contractor in charge of maintaining the utility’s electric grid, in January 2014.
National Grid will remain in charge of maintenance and operation for natural gas and power generation infrastructure on LI. While the company currently maintains both the gas and electric delivery systems, National Grid has 2,600 employees on hand to help during emergencies.
The lack of backup when PSEG takes over has Schumer worried. He said he was concerned the contract between LIPA and PSEG because “there was no unified and comprehensive emergency response plan included as part of the agreement.”
A PSEG spokesman acknowledged Schumer’s concerns. “PSEG has developed a strong network of companies that provide mutual aid support during storms and we intend to replicate that arrangement on Long Island,” the company said in a statement.
LIPA took a harder stance. “To suggest we would leave long Islanders vulnerable to a major storm because of staffing levels is wrong,” said the utility’s spokesman, Mark Gross. “We will have a storm plan that gives us a robust workforce utilizing all available long Island resources.”
Schumer noted that the Irene response by National Grid and LIPA left a lot of room for improvement. The state Public Service Commission reportedly found the two were using two distinct emergency response plans.
“They were literally executing their offense from two different playbooks,” Schumer said. “The bottom line is LIPA and PSEG need to have a plan in place to keep the lights on so that Long Island homeowners and businesses aren’t ever again left in the dark for up to nine days.”