By JOYE BROWN
Updated March 2, 2015 9:29 PM
A request to increase electric rates on Long Island, after three years of a politically imposed freeze in the delivery charge, should come as no surprise to Nassau and Suffolk residents.
But the lengthy list of contingencies built into the request — which came to light only after Newsday reporter Mark Harrington combed through a 421-page LIPA tariff document — makes the proposed 3.9 percent delivery charge increase over three years a floor, not a ceiling.
How high could rates rise, you ask?
The Long Island Power Authority document includes so many contingencies, so many moving pieces that there’s no way to know.
Is this how the so-called reform of the Long Island Power Authority — which included the promise of more transparency and greater accountability — was supposed to look?
And what are Long Islanders supposed to make of a recommendation that, in the future, would drop the name LIPA for an Orwellian-sounding “the authority.”
It’s as if LIPA — or at least the Long Island-tagged portion of it — has become politically radioactive, an embarrassment best left out of sight, out of mind since the job of handling operations for the region’s electric needs now rests with PSEG Long Island, a private firm.
But LIPA remains important to residents.
LIPA’s board this year will make the ultimate decision on the rate request. Most of the trustees were appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who championed creation of the hybrid PSEG-LIPA that would keep rates the same for three years — time enough to get past Cuomo’s re-election campaign last fall.
This week, the state Department of Public Service is conducting public hearings on the proposed PSEG-LIPA rate and rule changes.
That is no small thing, transparency wise.
Because the hearings mark the first time in some two decades that Long Island residents — unburdened by the three-minute time limit imposed on speakers at LIPA board meetings — will have the opportunity to sound off.
The state Department of Public Service, which already is seeking more information about the proposed changes, ultimately will make recommendations on the request.
But it will be up to LIPA’s board of trustees to say yea or nay to the proposal.
Right now, however, LIPA and PSEG need to be more forthcoming about the contingencies included in their request — specifically about how much more customers would could end up paying.
But LIPA trustees, oddly, are giving customers less, rather than more, opportunity to seek explanations for the proposed increases because the board recently decided to halve the number of meetings it holds each year.
That’s a bad move, especially as the proposed rate increase makes its way through a new vetting process, under a newly reconfigured relationship between LIPA and PSEG.
The fact that it took a Newsday reporter to dig out and explain the squishiness in the PSEG-LIPA rate proposal argues the need for more — rather than fewer — meetings.