Statement of Assemblyman Fred Thiele on LIPA Storm Performance

September 6, 2011
As of Sunday morning, the number of LIPA customers without power has now been reduced from a high of 523,000 to less than 12,000.

With a week to reflect on storm recovery, here are some observations:

1. The utility crews on the ground did an outstanding job, working virtually non-stop to get the lights back on. We thank you for your efforts.

2. Governor Cuomo and our local government officials also did a great job in storm preparation and recovery. In particular, Governor Cuomo’s kick in the pants to LIPA and National Grid to get the lights on was much appreciated by Long Islanders.

3. Contrary to the fears of many, including myself, the East End was treated very fairly in storm recovery efforts. As a result, the East End was “open for business” on the last big weekend of the summer season.

4. Of course, the bad news was the performance of LIPA and National Grid management in communicating with the public about its storm recovery efforts. Good information was hard to come by when it came to storm recovery efforts. In this age of information technology, the lack of accurate information was unacceptable. If LIPA had a coherent plan for storm recovery, it was not well communicated. The public was often given incomplete or conflicting information about what was happening on the ground. The result was frustration and anger towards a utility that already has some of the lowest customer satisfaction ratings in the country.

5. It is inevitable that there will now be public hearings to assess the performance of LIPA and more importantly to develop an action plan to improve future performance. Among the issues that need to be addressed:

a. A complete review of LIPA’s storm preparation and recovery plan;

b. A particular focus on public outreach and communication aspects of that plan;

c. Consideration of a long term capital plan to bury utility lines in critical locations. LIPA has too long resisted this. Neighboring communities with buried utility lines fared much better than Long Island.

d. Changes in the management agreement with National Grid scheduled to expire in 2013, including a change in who provides that service. I opposed the original agreement with National Grid because of Grid’s mediocre history in serving its customers. Now is the time to insure greater local control over management and customer service issues.

6. Finally, experience again proves the need for greater oversight and transparency in LIPA’s operations. Storm recovery again points out the need to replace the current politically appointed LIPA Board of Trustees with a Board elected by the people of Long Island with each town and city having one member. Can anyone name a LIPA Trustee or claim that they saw one during the storm? If the Trustees were elected, they would be accountable to us and would have been at the forefront of efforts to get the power back on in their town or city. There is no better way to make LIPA more accountable and improve its performance than to make the Trustees directly accountable to their customers as was envisioned by the original LIPA legislation enacted in 1986.