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Suffolk Closeup
Long Island still waiting for utility reform

Photo: Denise Civiletti

PSEG, a Newark, New Jersey-based utility, was foisted on Long Island to be the utility on the island by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

2015_1024_suffolk_closeup_grossmanHis father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, had undermined the prospect of Long Island having a democratically run public power entity determining its energy future, a Long Island Power Authority. After LIPA was created in 1985, he canceled having LIPA trustees elected — central to the LIPA vision — and instead directed they be appointed by the governor, the Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader.

Topping things off, in 2013 Andrew Cuomo had LIPA decimated in favor of PSEG.

Cuomo was able to get a majority of Long Island state lawmakers to vote for his scheme by permitting video slot casinos in Nassau and Suffolk. The notion was that they would provide revenue for financially-troubled Nassau and Suffolk county governments and their bankrupt OTB operations, both patronage troughs. This ploy turned out to be a big misstep in itself with now years of public opposition on the island to the proposed casinos.

Meanwhile, PSEG has had a very sorry record as the Long Island utility. This bad record is continuing with intensity.

Last month, for example, PSEG took a blow at solar energy on Long Island asking the state Public Service Commission to “minimize” and “later eliminate” benefits received by homeowners and business owners utilizing solar energy. PSEG wants to hike the charge to solar customers for being connected to the grid and reduce what they get for sending electricity into it.

“We should encourage homeowners and business owners to invest in rooftop solar systems—but PSEG wants to penalize them,” says Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island. ‘This runs counter to the idea of getting more renewable energy into the grid and of the New York State energy plan which seeks to get half of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030.”

Blasting the PSEG plan in a letter to Newsday last week, State Senator Steve Englebright of Setauket declared: “I am committed to expanding renewable energy opportunities, not curtailing them.”

Meanwhile, PSEG is pushing ahead with its plan to install taller and wider utility poles throughout Long Island with their bottoms coated with pentachlorophenol or penta—a cancer-causing substance banned by nations around the world.

A battle has been underway against this PSEG program in East Hampton Town which has included public protests and a lawsuit brought by Long Island Businesses for Responsible Energy and individual citizens. It is spearheaded by Helene and Jack Forst of East Hampton, long safe-energy activists. State Supreme Court Justice Andrew G. Tarantino, Jr. recently refused PSEG’s motion to dismiss the case. Irving Like, the noted environmental lawyer from Babylon — author of the Conservation Bill of Rights in the State Constitution — represents the plaintiffs who want to get PSEG to bury the electric lines. That’s something that should be done all over Long Island rather than stick poles with a cancer-causing substance on them into the ground, just above our sole-source water table, to hold lines that are vulnerable in hurricanes and other big storms.

PSEG, a private utility, is at the same time insisting that it’s not subject to local zoning and other laws. That’s been challenged by the Town of East Hampton in connection with PSEG’s activities at its substation in Amagansett. State Supreme Court Justice Thomas F. Whelan recently ruled in favor of PSEG. The town is appealing his decision.

“Outrageous!” says East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell about PSEG’s position. “PSEG demands a blank check to do what it wishes without local approval.” PSEG in his town “took a substation, did construction, put up barbed wire fences without screening—it resembles a nuclear plant site.”

Speaking of nuclear power, a fundamental mission of LIPA was to lead in bringing safe, clean, renewable — and not nuclear — energy to Long Island. Its establishment was key to stopping the plan of the Long Island Lighting Company, which it replaced, to build seven to 11 nuclear power plants on the island, with Shoreham the first. Another U.S. utility that’s been as bullish on nuclear power—and still is: PSEG. In the 1970s, it embarked on a plan to build a line of “floating” nuclear power plants in the Atlantic off New Jersey with the last just south of Long Island. Millions were spent before this scheme was jettisoned.

But PSEG has just now gotten an “early permit” from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to add a third nuclear power plant to its two-nuclear plant Salem nuclear power complex — some 125 miles southwest of Long Island. This PSEG has become our utility?

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) who fought the Cuomo LIPA/PSEG deal says he is continuing to work on “true reform” of LIPA by returning it to the vision of being a democratically-run public utility. He says: “I have grave concerns about PSEG.”


Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books. Grossman and his wife Janet live in Sag Harbor.

Suffolk Closeup is a syndicated opinion column on issues of concern to Suffolk County residents.

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.