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Storm warning

For many people in the New York City area, the only thing worse than Superstorm Sandy has been the utilities’ response to it. The storm hit nearly three weeks ago, but some residents are still in the dark-in terms of both power and communication from the energy providers.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been among the sharpest critics of the utilities, and on Tuesday he went a step farther, signing an executive order to set up a commission under the powerful Moreland Act that will "investigate the response, preparation and management of New York’s power utility companies with major storms hitting the state over the past two years."
The commission will make recommendations to revamp and modernize the regulation and management of power services in New York.
"As evidenced by Hurricane Sandy," Mr. Cuomo said in a statement announcing his order, "the existing labyrinth of regulatory bodies, state agencies and authorities, and quasi-governmental bodies has contributed to a dysfunctional utility system."
Some skeptics think the governor’s move serves more than one purpose. They say Mr. Cuomo hopes it will deflect criticism of him for failing to reform the Long Island Power Authority, a state entity. The state Public Service Commission issued a report in June blasting LIPA’s performance, but the governor has not taken action and has named only one of a number of board members he has the power to appoint.
This week, two customers filed a class action lawsuit against LIPA and National Grid, the company that operates LIPA’s network, claiming among other things that its power outage management system operates on a "25-year-old mainframe computer running an obsolete computer program language."
In all likelihood, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Most importantly, the quality of the appointees to the Moreland Commission-headed by former state Attorney General Robert Abrams-suggests the governor is serious about addressing the shortcomings of the energy supply and regulatory system.
And that’s a good thing. With severe weather events becoming more frequent, New York cannot afford a "labyrinth" of regulators and utilities incapable of rapid and effective response.

11/16/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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