Despite progress in restoring power to Long Island, tens of thousands remain nearly two weeks after Superstorm Sandy swept through on October 29.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo registered his impatience with the utility companies – LIPA, Con Ed, – with a thinly veiled threat that the companies could lose their franchise, altogether.
In a November 1 letter to the heads of LIPA, National Grid NY, National Grid, USA, Con Ed, Orange and Rockland Utilities, Central Hudson Gas & electric Corp, Rochester Gas & Electric Corp & New York State Electric & Gas Corp,Governor Cuomo laid down the law:
“Because we had several days’ notice of an event of catastrophic proportions, State and local government and New Yorkers prepared for an impending storm. Indeed, the public depended on utilities to prepare for such an event, respond to emergencies and to return, as quickly as possible, to providing safe and adequate electricity. The response of your companies to this emergency will be, in great part, a function of how well you prepared for it and a testament to how seriously you view this responsibility.
“If you failed to prepare, however, as evidenced by your response, it is a failure to keep your part of the bargain – a failure to keep the trust that New Yorkers have placed in you by granting you the privilege to conduct utility business in New York State; in particular, the certificates of public convenience and necessity (“Certificate”) granted by the State under the Public Service Law. New Yorkers should not suffer because electric utilities did not reasonably prepare for this eventuality. In the context of the ongoing emergency, such a failure constitutes a breach of the public trust.
“Under such circumstances, I would direct the Public Service Commission to commence a proceeding to revoke your Certificates. With respect to the Long Island Power Authority, I will make every change necessary to ensure it lives up to its public responsibility. It goes without saying that such failures would warrant the removal of the management responsible for such colossal misjudgments,” Cuomo wrote.
In LIPA’s case, questions have been raised about the utility company’s preparation for the storm and whether it allowed Long Island to be vulnerable to a major storm event which was considered inevitable to strike – whether it had the technology in place as it was supposed to, to monitor outages, and whether it had a judicious tree-pruning program in place so that its wires were not so easily brought down in a storm.
Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender, in an email to residents, raised issues that LIPA would have to address for the future:
“….important questions need to be raised regarding LIPA’s allocation of resources on the peninsula and its dissemination of knowledge to government officials about its response. In the days following the storm, Great Neck Plaza officials, staff and our own residents saw few, if any, LIPA lineman crews in our village and in surrounding areas of Great Neck. Certainly there should have been at least a minimal allocation of lineman crews in all affected areas. While LIPA was steadfastly committed to holding twice daily briefings to municipal officials, much of the information reported at these briefings was not consistent with our own personal observations.
“We intend to pursue answers to these very important questions as to how resources were allocated and how information was disseminated to both government officials and to the public, so that another similar event, the same mistakes are not repeated and hopefully LIPA’s response in the future to the needs of our residents will be substantially improved.
“We have also learned that at times no matter how much we stress the importance of inter-governmental cooperation among all levels of government, which is very important, it is also very important for us to find ways our village can increase its self-sufficiency in responding to certain critical needs of our residents during times of extended emergency conditions as we have all recently experienced.”