ALBANY – The state’s regulatory oversight of power companies needs to be bolstered to give the government an easier path to rescind the ability of poor performing utilities to operate in New York State, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed Monday.
In the aftermath of long power outages downstate following Superstorm Sandy, Cuomo, with few specifics, said he will propose legislation to end what he says has been a system “skewed in favor of the utility companies.”
The broadside by Cuomo against the utility companies came after the governor heard from members of a special state panel – which has unique legal powers, including the ability to issue subpoenas – looking into the response by utility companies after Sandy hit downstate. The panel, among other things, recommended privatizing the Long Island Power Authority, a state-run agency that has come under heavy criticism following widespread and long power outages after the superstorm hit Long Island.
But Cuomo signaled a desire to use the problems seen during Sandy as leverage with lawmakers in the upcoming session to give the state’s Public Service Commission more regulatory power over energy companies.
“You have an ineffective regulatory structure in this state. The utility companies are very powerful and I think the system has been skewed in favor of the utility companies,” Cuomo said. He added, “We want to have a situation where we truly regulate them and, to truly regulate them, I believe you have to be able to terminate the relationship. Otherwise, you have no ultimate sanction.”
Cuomo said the PSC is “not an effective regulator” and has limited powers. But insiders note the agency, a state entity, has enormous powers if its leaders choose to invoke them.
Chief among them, according to people who know the agency, is the ability to deny utility company rate increase requests.
. Cuomo did not get into details of his ideas, so it is uncertain what would happen if a power company is “decertified” to operate in New York. How power would continue to flow over the state’s grid system – whose power lines are owned by the utilities – is just one of the unanswered questions about Cuomo’s idea.
The state’s utility companies, some of which are still subject to an investigation by the special panel, did not respond to Cuomo’s remarks. .
But the governor got some initial backing from State Sen. George D. Maziarz, the Newfane Republican who heads the State Senate Energy Committee.
“In a very cautious way, I’d almost agree with him,” said Maziarz, noting he was hearing of Cuomo’s remarks for the first time from a reporter Monday evening.
“I think we have to start going in a different direction, and I look forward to seeing his proposals,” the senator said.