Think Again on LIPA

Not so fast, Long Islanders should be saying

   Privatize the Long Island Power Authority? That was the take-away message from the Moreland Commission, which had been asked by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to assess the utility’s preparation for and response to Hurricane Sandy. Not so fast, Long Islanders should be saying.
    Governor Cuomo appears to favor scrapping the public-private LIPA and replacing it with a wholly independent utility company answerable to state regulators, according to news reports. Kathleen Rice, the Nassau County district attorney who was a member of the Moreland Commission, said the leading alternative, reconfiguring the utility, would not gain ratepayers’ favor. The third course mapped by the commission — and perhaps the least-popular among officials — would be to to allow the New York Power Authority to take over.
    There is no question that LIPA was unprepared for Hurricane Sandy and, as a consequence, was unable to speedily restore electricity to many customers. A 2006 study commissioned by the utility itself identified striking deficiencies in its storm plans. LIPA had a trial run after 2010’s Hurricane Irene, but failed afterward to take adequate corrective steps.
    Part of the blame must rest with the governor. Despite two years in Albany, Mr. Cuomo has left open four of the nine seats on the LIPA board of trustees, although he can appoint members. If, as many observers agree, oversight was lacking, there can be no excuse for not filling these positions regardless of whether he believes the utility is fatally flawed.
    If privatization were to work, as the commission said, it would have to be within a highly structured regulatory framework developed with consumers’ best interests in mind. But even then control would be at a remove and filtered through a corporation that answered first to shareholders and Wall Street. Considering this, the third option, putting Long Island’s electric service under the New York Power Authority, might be the best choice for all of us who ultimately pay the bills.