How Will LIPA and National Grid Handle LI’s Next Hurricane?

A tree toppled into a power line made traffic on this Brookhaven road impassible. At a hastily assembled press conference in Blue Point, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko, joined with other elected officials, blasted the slow response of LIPA and National Grid to restore power days after Irene.

Regarding Schumer’s criticism of dual game plans, Hervey says there were two plans—Nat Grid had operational procedures and LIPA had procedures for its headquarters—“but they don’t conflict.” He does, however, agree with the report’s suggestion that they be merged regardless.

On a more serious note, key differences came up when LIPA and Nat Grid tried to handle the emergency response in coordination with local government.


“We thought a plan was in place,” Hervey says. “But when we actually implemented it we found out that all the towns, us and the counties were not on the same page with the same plan. We all had different preconceptions about the way that would work….”

“Customers are asking for change and they’re getting it,” says Hervey, adding that LIPA is the leader in the state on using solar power.

Don Daley of the IBEW Local 1049 sees improvements.

“LIPA has more control over staffing where they didn’t have it before, which is going to be big,” he says. Still, he hopes that the public has more sympathy for his members following the next storm than they did during Irene’s cleanup and will understand that the bigger jobs, for instance, restoring power to major thoroughfares and communities at large, take more priority than a service disruption to a private residence.

“A lot of our own members were leaving their families without lights to go put on our neighbors’ lights,” Daley says. “It’s hard to come home to a dark house and your neighbor’s got a dark house!”

Others are not so optimistic.

Cordaro, who handled 20 major storms during his 40-year utility career, remains highly skeptical that LIPA can do a better job, given its present service structure. Essentially LIPA takes the heat but cannot provide it, he says, relying on private contractors to meet LI’s energy needs. Before the Vantage review was released, his oversight committee had just released its own highly critical 191-page report to the Suffolk legislature.

Meanwhile, a report by the Inspector General on LIPA’s past practices hasn’t been issued and the governor’s press office declined to comment when it would be; the Federal Emergency Management Agency is scrutinizing LIPA’s reimbursement requests of its restoration costs—some $115 million—holding up the checks; and thanks to a bill passed by the state legislature and signed into law earlier this year, LIPA will undergo a management audit that should be completed next year.

Additionally, Cuomo hasn’t filled LIPA’s chief executive officer position—Hervey, who’s been at LIPA since 2010, has assumed the role on an interim basis—and two LIPA trustees are still serving despite their expired terms because the governor hasn’t named their replacements (they are volunteers).

On the plus side, LIPA’s rates are the lowest they’ve been since 2005, but that is small comfort when the lights are out and the air conditioner isn’t working on a blazing hot day.

“You hope that LIPA is listening and learning from all this and is reacting to it properly,” says Cordaro. “I’ve got to say that history doesn’t demonstrate that they do that very well. The bottom line is that I have my fingers crossed just like everyone else does… and [LIPA] magically through osmosis or whatever other means improves its ability to manage storm restoration.”

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