LILCO, LIPA, PSEG — the names may have changed over the years, but for more than 30 years electrical service on Long Island has been one frustration after another. At a meeting in East Hampton on Tuesday, residents and elected officials were expected to speak out about a host of issues; whether their pleas will receive a meaningful response is subject to doubt.
Back in the 1970s, the Long Island Lighting Company tried to bring the region the never-to-be-opened Shoreham nuclear power station. Its successor, the Long Island Power Authority, was responsible for continually soaring rates and wholly inadequate storm preparation. And now, as the region gets to know the Public Service Enterprise Group (as Orwell might have called it), we have been subject to a thuggish approach that brought unsightly and perhaps unsafe massive transmission lines to residential neighborhoods and treasured agricultural areas and an absence of long-term vision including a meaningful commitment to renewable sources and reducing greenhouse emissions.
PSEG is a for-profit company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It seems that the bean-counters within it and its external shareholders are the guiding forces. This is evident in the new “Utility 2.0” plan, which relies on old-fashioned oil-burning power plants to meet supplemental demand on the East End, and seems to be a behind-the-scenes effort worthy of pulp fiction at intimidation of its critics.
PSEG’s deal with the state has the familiar hallmarks of a typical insider arrangement. The law pushed through by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, which supposedly was intended to reform Long Island’s electric service, does not clearly require the company to use competitive bidding, leaving key aspects of its operation essentially unregulated. As with many other initiatives from the governor’s office, when it came to PSEG, he left local governments twisting in the wind, able to do little more than beg for solutions.
Critics, including the Sierra Club, have said the “Utility 2.0” plan fails to provide for adequate alternative generation, notably by offshore wind turbines. PSEG also has sought to delay a 280-megawatt renewable-power project for which bids already had been sought.
Other critics have sharply faulted a demand-reduction project that appears likely to be watered down amid PSEG’s debt-minimization schemes. Gordian Raacke, the director of Renewable Energy Long Island, decried the utility’s approach, saying that it “seems determined to drag us back into the fossil fuel past.”
One has to wonder what it will take to finally break the utility nightmare that has defined electric service in the region. Without Albany taking the lead, there can be little hope of reform or alternatives. Given how much businesses and residents pay for power, they deserve better. Governor Cuomo, who has been understood as having national political aspirations, should recognize an opportunity here to demand a progressive, forward-leaning power policy for Long Island. New York State could become a model for the rest of the country. Instead, “Utility 2.0,” which was supposed to signal a new start, appears doomed from the outset. In the absence of the governor’s leadership, there is little hope for an environmentally sound energy future.