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Features

Imagine: An Electric Company We Don’t Hate

David M. Daly has stepped into the biggest mess on Long Island. And he’s smiling, using the word “excited” again and again.

Daly is the newly named president/COO of PSEG Long Island, which on January 1 takes over the electric utility Frankenstein monster born of the mash-up of LILCO, LIPA and National Grid. It is the kind of assignment that would have many executives clutching the rip cord of their golden parachute. Daly, however, expects to succeed and stick around for every moment and then some of the company’s 12-year contract to run the utility.

“Customers will see noticeable changes each year,” he said at a recent breakfast meeting. “And we will be top-ranked in reliability within five years.”

In fact, Daly has similar aspirations for the utility in terms of customer satisfaction and storm response, too.

A tall order for someone stepping into the shoes of managers and mismanagers who have racked up a record of missteps and stupidity going back decades. Some of the highest electric rates in the nation, along with last year’s clumsy, clownish, clueless response to Superstorm Sandy, have made Long Islanders eager for change.

Daly is quick to point out that this is not a lipstick-on-a-pig operation. Over the past two years, New Jersey utility Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) performed a “deep dive” into the operations of the LIPA/National Grid’s electric service. With such an easy target, the resulting “Findings and Recommendations Report” was no mere pamphlet. But rather than tackle everything, Daly plans to focus on the issues that have the most impact.

First, is management. Gone are the blurred lines of who is in charge—utility executives or LIPA political appointees? Now, PSEG Long Island (which stands for Public Service Enterprise Group) makes and is responsible for all operational decisions. For the most part, LIPA now will be limited to bankrolling capital investments.

Next is processes. The 1,900 workers the company is bringing over from LIPA/National Grid are well trained and professional, said Daly, but they need new marching orders and incentives. Sounding very much like the MBA he is, Daly speaks of “best practices” and “linking compensation to customer satisfaction.”

Then, of course, there’s technology. Not only is a new call-center operation on tap, but so is a new outage management system that replaces the 30-year-old dinosaur that made it impossible for LIPA/National Grid to figure out just how bad the damage was during Sandy and how to respond most efficiently. No wonder so many of us spent weeks in the literal and figurative dark.

A large investment in electrical system infrastructure isn’t needed.

“The assets are good,” said Daly.

But maintenance has been another matter, he said.

PSEG intends to devote more resources to testing and maintaining the relays at substations around the island. When power goes out in one area, the relays go to work rerouting electricity to minimize the problem. Or at least they’re supposed to. Daly intends to make sure they do. He also plans to raise substations “above the 500-year storm level plus two feet.”

Much more tree trimming is high on the list. Trees are utility wires’ worst enemy. Especially in a storm. Daly expects to increase tree trimming by 40 percent.

Also, Daly promises to make inspecting, maintaining and replacing wooden utility poles a higher priority. Weak, worn-out poles that brought power lines down with them were a major problem during Sandy.

Much of what Daly has planned is “replicating” what has worked at the mother company in the Garden State.

“We have had the same storms you’ve had here on Long Island,” said the 30-year veteran of PSE&G. “And we have been recognized as one of the best in storm restoration services.”

And rates?

“There is a three-year rate freeze — 2013, 2014 and 2015,” said Daly, making it clear that he feels our monthly pain.

The rate freeze probably will apply only to the delivery-charge portion of the bill, not the power-supply charge. After that, Daly said, the goal is “rate stability.”

Yes, that leaves the door open for higher rates, but anytime anyone can convincingly use the word “stability” about electrical service on Long Island, it’s a very welcome sound.

John Owens is editor in chief of Anton Community Newspapers. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it