Long Island elected officials joined in the governor’s denunciation, and their outrage over the outage may have influenced LIPA’s Board of Trustees’ decision last fall to award its $3.9-billion contract to run the electric system to PSEG, a New Jersey-based utility, which will take over from Nat Grid on Jan. 1, 2014. Complicating matters, Nat Grid will still maintain and operate its natural gas and power generation facilities on LI, retaining some 1,200 to 1,300 workers, which adds to the confusion about what will happen when the next hurricane comes and PSEG needs more emergency crews to handle downed electric lines.
“I look forward to working with PSEG,” says Don Daley, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Local 1049, which represents some 2,600 workers. “They have an excellent reputation over in New Jersey with a sister local of ours…. I think what’s important to the ratepayers is that LIPA and National Grid have an agreement with the on-Island gas crews to supplement our electric crews.” He tells the Press it still has to “be hammered out.”
Just last week, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer held a press conference in Wantagh where a household went five days without power after Irene. Schumer blasted LIPA and National Grid’s “poor performance” in restoring power and urged that the emergency response plans be improved before the next major storm. Citing a recent report commissioned by the state Department of Public Service, Schumer said that Nat Grid and LIPA “were literally executing their offense from two different playbooks… 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.”
In a statement, Schumer said, “Experts predict that there are more regular and intense storm events in years to come, and I remain concerned over the reliability of energy for Long Island residents…. Reliable energy distribution…can mean the difference between life and death.”
LIPA and PSEG issued a joint response following the press conference.
“We agree with Sen. Schumer that a detailed plan needs to be in place to enable safe and swift restoration in the event of a storm,” said a PSEG spokesperson. “As part of our comprehensive transition plan, PSEG will ensure that we have the resources available to handle storms once we assume responsibility for LIPA’s electric system in 2014.”
“To suggest we would leave Long islanders vulnerable to a major storm because of staffing levels is wrong,” said Mark Gross, a LIPA spokesman, in his statement. “Given PSEG’s success of storm planning and procedures and their commitment to improved service for our customers, we will have a storm plan that gives us a robust workforce utilizing all available Long Island resources. Meanwhile, the existing plan with National Grid is still in place.”