By MARK HARRINGTON
Updated March 2, 2015 10:13 PM
Most ratepayers slammed PSEG Long Island and LIPA’s planned 4 percent, 3-year rate hike at a public hearing in Riverhead Monday night, saying rates were already too high and left uncertainties about costs soaring even higher.
Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), in a statement read by a staff member, noted comments by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year that LIPA “can’t keep putting your hand in the pocket of ratepayers,” and said PSEG had failed to justify the rate increase.
Referring to Cuomo’s property tax cap, Thiele said, “No increase should be approved above the 1.62 percent that local governments and school districts must live with this year.”
The proposal would allow PSEG and LIPA to raise more than $440 million in new revenue from an annual 4 percent hike in the delivery charge — about half the average PSEG bill — starting in 2016. The money would cover expenses including expanded maintenance programs such as tree-trimming, debt service installments to fund prior and new system upgrades and higher costs tied to inflation.
The plan would allow for rate hikes beyond the 4 percent should certain debt, power or storm costs exceed projections.
It accompanies an overall expansion of LIPA’s debt from a current $7.6 billion to at least $8.26 billion in 2018.At the hearing, Christopher Reilly of Coram said he was “extremely alarmed” by the proposed increase and other potential costs outside the plan.
He called a “delivery service adjustment” allowed under the plan “basically a blank check” for ratepayers to sign. “Do we need to worry about even higher bills in coming years? Yes, folks, we do.”
Paul Lozowsky, director of the Utility Consumer Advocacy Project, a Patchogue watchdog, noted that planned expansion of debt compares with a former priority of reducing the “mountain” of borrowings.
“It’s a dream for Wall Street” at the ratepayers’ expense, he said. “This deal is a disaster.”
Asked about the cost contingencies that could hike rates further, Matt Weissman, a rate attorney with PSEG in Newark, said such practices are “no different from what other utilities” do, and said costs won’t necessarily increase.
One speaker spoke in favor of the increase. Don Daley, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 1049, representing more than 1,450 PSEG workers, called improvements “well worth the price.” The union negotiated a 2 percent wage increase over two years.
The hearings are run by the state Department of Public Service’s Long Island office, which reviews the rate increase.
PSEG has said the “modest” increases are needed to continue making the utility among the top-ranked in the nation.
Tuesday, at the William H. Rogers Legislative Building auditorium, 725 Veterans Memorial Hwy., in Smithtown, a 6 p.m. information session is followed by a 7 p.m. public hearing.
On Wednesday, hearings start at 2 p.m. at the Queens Library at Seaside, 116-15 Rockaway Beach Blvd., in Rockaway Park. Another Wednesday session starts at 6 p.m. at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building, Legislative Chambers, 1550 Franklin Ave., in Mineola.
Also Wednesday, LIPA is holding sessions on changes to its rule book, known as the LIPA tariff. The first is at 10 a.m. at the H. Lee Dennison Building 100 Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge. The second is at 2 p.m. at LIPA Offices, 333 Earle Ovington Blvd., Fourth Floor, in Uniondale.