By Karl Grossman
It’s been a couple of weeks of mixed moves at the Long Island Power Authority—mirroring the mixed record of Kevin Law over his three years at LIPA’s helm. Mr. Law this week left his positions as president and chief executive officer of LIPA to become president of the Long Island Association, an islandwide chamber of commerce.
Under Mr. Law there’s been inconsistency at LIPA. For example, a first act upon replacing long-time consumer activist Richard Kessel as LIPA head was to scuttle a plan Mr. Kessel championed for wind turbines off the south shore. Long Island would have been replicating the success of Europe with wind turbines. Mr. Law, a lawyer, cited financial reasons for the cancellation. Yet last month, as he prepared to leave LIPA, he called for wind turbines off the south shore in a project five times as large as the one cancelled.
Similarly, last week, with PR pomp, Mr. Law and LIPA celebrated the completion of a 180-panel photovoltaic system at Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue. It was described in a press release as the “largest LIPA-rebated ground mounted solar system on Long Island.” Other bigger photovoltaic systems that have received LIPA support are on rooftops.
Mr. Law declared: “The use of solar and wind on the East End continues to thrive under LIPA’s renewable energy rebate program helping us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, assisting customers in lowering their energy bills, and creating high energy jobs right here on Long Island.”
Nice words. But the week before LIPA announced the fifth reduction this year in the rebate it has been providing for solar photovoltaic systems—down to $1.75 per watt. It had been $3.50 on December 31st. LIPA gave reasons including “continued federal, state and local tax incentives” and the “declining cost of installation”— the cost of solar panels has been dropping because of manufacturing and technological improvements and economy of scale as more panels are installed.
Still, the spread of solar photovoltaic energy is key to Long Island having an independent and non-polluting energy supply. A full commitment to clean, safe, sustainable energy must be a top priority for LIPA—indeed, this was integral to LIPA’s mission in the law creating it in 1985.
Also integral was LIPA having an elected board of trustees. That way, believed those who fought for LIPA’s founding, Long Islanders would be able to chart their own energy future. After the push by the Long Island Lighting Company to build seven to 11 nuclear power plants (the now gutted Shoreham plant to be the first), this was deemed highly important. LIPA was established mainly as a way to stop LILCO’s nuclear scheme. This it did.
Mr. Law has been steadfast in his opposition to an elected LIPA board, backing a board appointed by the governor, State Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader (Albany’s “three-men-in-a room”).
“We were always in favor of an elected board,” commented Maurice Barbash last week. ‘
Mr. Barbash was chairman of Citizens to Replace LILCO, the organization that led the effort to form LIPA. He blames ex-Governor Mario Cuomo for “screwing up” both how LIPA would take over LILCO and then postponing elections to the LIPA board. Mr. Cuomo’s successor, Governor George Pataki, then eliminated having an elected LIPA board.
What’s next for LIPA? LIPA Chairman Howard Steinberg has no energy background. His LIPA biography describes him as a lawyer whose “practice focuses on mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and securities matters.” He was appointed by Governor Pataki after being chairman of the New York State Thruway Authority. The LIPA board last week named Michael Hervey, LIPA senior vice president of operations, to temporarily replace Mr. Law.
A bill providing for restoration of having an elected LIPA board, co-sponsored by State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor again passed the Assembly in June. The Senate again did not vote on it. What’s its problem? LIPA desperately needs to return to its original vision with a board elected by Long Islanders which with consistency will champion and implement having safe, clean energy here.