November 16, 2012 at 15:42 PM EST
Editorial: Amateur hour at LIPA
It has become painfully obvious that the prolonged power failures across Long Island were not simply the inescapable result of an unpredictably strong storm. Yes, high winds will inevitably topple trees onto above-ground power lines. But cronyism and incompetence were the reasons the Long Island Power Authority failed so completely to prepare for Hurricane Sandy, repair the damage and tell 1 million customers when their lights would come back on. The fiasco exposed what has long been common knowledge in the clubby world of Long Island politics: LIPA is a cesspool of patronage. The results of a crucial public utility being treated as a dumping ground for politicians' relatives and cronies are clear: LIPA is a wreck. Its trustees are clueless, its management is infested with amateurs, and its technicians track outages by sticking pushpins into paper maps. We could not make this stuff up. Ironically, the authority was created because its predecessor, the Long Island Lighting Co., was so despised by Nassau and Suffolk county residents for its high prices and poor service. It was infamous for botching its response to Hurricane Gloria and a nuclear-power plant project that inflated customers' bills but produced not a single watt of electricity. Eventually Gov. Mario Cuomo replaced it with LIPA, a government entity that became just as hated as its predecessor. Mr. Cuomo's son, current Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has leveled harsh criticism upon the authority since the storm, certainly because LIPA deserved it but perhaps also to divert the public from his inattention to the utility for the first 22 months of his tenure. Mr. Cuomo is right, though, that LIPA probably cannot be fixed. The question now is whether to return Long Island's power delivery to private hands. Defenders of the LIPA model say it saves ratepayers money because it does not divert profits to shareholders and pays its top executives only about $300,000, less than 3% of what some private utilities' CEOs make. But LIPA's record speaks for itself: Its prices are among the highest in the nation, and its service is among the worst. Now that LIPA has Mr. Cuomo's full attention, we have no doubt he could make it functional. But governors should be focused on crafting policy and providing services statewide, not running a utility in one corner of the state. And who knows how LIPA would fare under future governors? A private, professional utility insulated from politics and answerable to the state Public Service Commission offers Long Island the best chance for reliable, affordable power. We hope Mr. Cuomo reaches the same conclusion.
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