Tellingly, Nat Grid did not join in last week’s public relations opportunity with New York’s senior senator.
“From what I understand National Grid pulled out from that,” says Matt Cordaro, a former top executive at the Long Island Lighting Co., LIPA’s precursor, and co-chairman of the LIPA Oversight Committee, formed by the Suffolk Legislature in 2010. He stood with Schumer in Wantagh and told the Press that Nat Grid “has been dragging its feet about openly offering its personnel in the event of a storm” after PSEG takes over.
Asked to comment for this story, a National Grid spokeswoman, Wendy Ladd, would only say: “National Grid will continue to provide the benefits of its combined downstate employees and U.S. Operations to LIPA’s customers for storm response to the end of the contract.”
When Irene slammed the Island starting on the evening of Aug. 27, its sustained winds were between 40 mph and 60 mph, making it “the most power and wide-reaching storm to hit Long Island since Hurricane Gloria in 1985,” according to the 112-page report prepared on behalf of the PSC at Cuomo’s request. Because LIPA is not regulated by the PSC, Vantage Energy Consultants, an independent contractor based in Florida, conducted the study. The conclusions were not kind.
“This thing is damning,” says Cordaro. “If I were a LIPA board member, I’d be calling for the ouster and firing of the management of LIPA.” He added that if “you go beyond the polite language in the executive summary you see a tremendous amount of negligence…and lack of utility professionalism,’’ adding that “many times” Vantage said Nat Grid and LIPA’s operations were “not up to industry standards.”
The Vantage report “confirmed what a lot of us know and felt that the job that was done was inadequate,” says David Calone, a member of the LIPA Board of Trustees and chairman of the trustees’ LIPA operations committee. He said they were frustrated by the communications failure to keep the customers and public officials informed and it will be “certainly better” than it was last year. One glaring finding from the report was that Nat Grid was relying on a main frame computer that still used COBOL, a computer language now decades old, to handle its outage management system. Ironically, LIPA had just approved a contract to upgrade the system the Wednesday before Irene came ashore.
“We had no ownership of that system,” explains Michael Hervey, chief operating officer of LIPA. “That was a LILCO system, a KeySpan system [its successor], a National Grid system, and finally in 2009 we negotiated ownership rights of that system. We had no right to change that system until that point in time.”
With a view of Nassau from his Uniondale office in the Omni Building, Hervey, in shirt sleeves and tieless, acknowledged the findings in the Vantage report, particularly in regard to keeping customers informed, and insisted that LIPA will do a better job when the next bad storm strikes.
“We’ve made a significant improvement in the old system for this year, which should be able to give much better information—not perhaps world-class information, but much better. The new system will be ready sometime next year.”