LIPA Style

LIPA would have failed miserably during Sandy if Nikola Tesla was the CEO of LIPA and Roger Ailes was the communications director. LIPA is broken because Long Island is broke.

Long Island came face-to-face with an uncomfortable reality during Hurricane Sandy. Our utility infrastructure is outmoded and unsustainable. Beyond the political posturing and the finger-pointing, the situation remains unchanged from the days prior to Sandy to now.

Blaming the current administration of the Long Island Power Authority for its inability to respond to a storm of this magnitude amounts to nothing more than scapegoating. Newsday’s recent editorial tirades against LIPA, the politicians calling for heads to roll at the authority and the public’s roiling anger are easy and obvious. Fixing the problem is much more complicated and expensive.

In a crisis like this one, everyone becomes an expert. WFAN’s Mike Francesa suspended his coverage of sports and launched into endless harangues against LIPA, which no doubt gave the NY Jets’ hapless management a momentary reprieve. Even my 9-year-old daughter knew the words to WBLI’s parody, “LIPA Style.” Putting aside the histrionics for a moment, it’s clear that we are no closer to a solution than we were three weeks ago, or 30 years ago for that matter.

So let’s boil it down. LIPA is a management company, not a utility company like National Grid. They are responsible for purchasing power, updating technology, tracking outages, communicating with customers and generally maintaining the grid. But even these important responsibilities are ancillary functions to the main purpose behind LIPA: managing debt.

LIPA was formed from the ashes of LILCO and the abandoned Shoreham nuclear plant, an all-too-familiar story to Long Islanders. It was created as an energy management company hybrid that was dead on arrival due to the overwhelming debt that the defunct Shoreham project carried along. Any attempts to chip away at the debt through aggressive power purchase agreements or renewable technology investments amounted to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Even though only about half of the outstanding $7 billion in LIPA debt can still be attributed to the albatross that was Shoreham, the total outstanding obligation hasn’t budged because borrowing without increased revenue begets more borrowing.

Still the cries for change at LIPA come from every direction. Why can’t we bury the lines? Because this isn’t Texas. We have neither the land nor the money to start digging new trenches and burying wires. Not to mention there are other things hanging from those poles (ahem, Cablevision), which further complicates the impossible. Why didn’t they upgrade the system like other places? Because it costs money to replace poles and wires that can withstand downed trees and high winds, and money equals rate increases.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be lauded on the one hand for his swift and tireless efforts in the wake of the storm. On the other hand, it must be said that his initial criticisms of LIPA sound somewhat hollow. For 22 months, the standard answer to questions regarding the vacant leadership post at LIPA and the vacant board seats has been: “We’re waiting to hear from the second floor.”

This is government-speak for “It’s up to the governor.” LIPA wasn’t even authorized to fund vacancies in the communications department. So for the governor to criticize LIPA for its lack of leadership and communication during the crisis is disingenuous at best. This doesn’t alter the fact that LIPA would have failed miserably during Sandy if Nikola Tesla was the CEO of LIPA and Roger Ailes was the communications director. 

LIPA is broken because Long Island is broke.

As a result, Michael Hervey has tendered his resignation from LIPA. He’s the fall guy and I get it. But this is not something to cheer. Hervey has three things going for him that all other leaders before him did not: experience, the admiration of his team and an engineering degree. I’m not saying he should remain as head of the authority, but losing him is a setback.

Please don’t mistake me for a LIPA apologist. There is no question LIPA was overwhelmed by the storm and therefore ineffective in its response. Furthermore, its communication with the public was awful. Better communication would have eased tensions in the same way a sign on the Long Island Expressway that tells you how long it will take you to get to the Midtown Tunnel does; it doesn’t make the trip faster, it just manages your expectations in the hopes of reducing road rage. You can bet that if Richie Kessel was still at the helm that everyone would have know what was going on, even if he had to knock on every door. Whether anything else would have been different is anyone’s guess.

With that said, there is a simple and extraordinarily unpopular answer to what ails us: We have no choice but to pay down LIPA’s debt.

We can talk about wind farms and solar arrays on top of parking lots until we’re blue in the face, but nothing will mitigate our financial mess until this debt is eradicated. Either we pay now, or our kids pay later. (Assuming they’re still here.) Any talk of funds to upgrade the system or of nationwide executive searches is meaningless unless and until we get serious about putting Shoreham behind us once and for all.

Any plan moving forward must seek to sunset LIPA altogether by combining federal money and local rate increases to aggressively pay down a significant portion of the debt and sell Long Island’s power infrastructure and remaining debt to a public utility. Anything less is just shouting at the rain.

What A Disaster

Nature may have disrupted our lives, but the communication disaster surrounding Tropical Storm Irene was purely man made. By 12 noon on Sunday, Aug. 28, it became clear LIPA, the media and local government all failed the public.

Of course, LIPA gets the lion’s share of the blame, and rightly so. When the utility dusted off a decades old, decentralized restoration plan, it failed to realize what a monumental communication strategy it would need. Not only would LIPA need the manpower and the connectivity to simultaneously monitor decentralized operations across the Island, it would need to create channels for feeding its own news — successes, works in progress, and problems — back to headquarters.

Instead, the new guy at the helm, came forth and announced he had nothing to say, and no way to find out in a timely manner. That’s the moment when media and government should have seized control.

To be fair to Michael Hervey, he’s new at this. And he got clobbered by one seriously angry woman. But let him be a case study for all CEOs on this Island: If communicating is not among your major priorities, if the need for publicly providing leadership and reassurance escapes your attention, then step down. Or, be smart enough to surround yourself with people who get it, before your own personal version of Irene takes hold and takes over.

A media savvy CEO would’ve made the world of a difference in this instance.

Say what you will about former LIPA head Richard Kessel, but the man is a master communicator. And, as all CEOs set the internal culture of a company, LIPA’s former senior management took communication duties with serious intent and obligation. Jumping out of the shower to take a reporter’s call — as opposed to finishing up, drying off and calling back, and possibly missing a deadline — was commonplace.

If Kessel (pictured right) had been there, it would have been a weekend of Kessel on over drive. Always on the radio. Pictured in the newspapers and online sources, giving interviews from sites of devastation — and providing plenty of photo ops, probably in that horizontal-striped polo shirt, bringing Dunkin’ Donuts to working crews, and donning a helmet and going up in a cherry picker, just to convey the image of no detail too small for the person in charge of cleaning up such a mess. Behind him, communication staff would be issuing new statements and, in today’s realm of technological wonders, tweeting, blogging and Facebooking news on a 24/7 basis. Would the power have been restored faster? Hard to say. But communication would have been fast and furious.

Instead, today’s LIPA took to fielding angry calls and, in return, offered sympathy. That’s no strategy. Occasional tweets and Facebook messages illustrated how out of touch the utility — like many local companies here — is with our rapidly changing local news landscape and its impact.

The truth of the matter is, with Newsday weakened by serious cutbacks and so few local reporters left to comb the Island, Hervey had a golden opportunity to feed the media whatever story he wanted. Lord knows there’s not enough experienced reporters around who would have verified the facts during a natural disaster. Thirty years ago, when radio and print reporters roamed our streets and could bear witness to events, companies wouldn’t be able to get away with what I am suggesting. Today, it’s a different ballgame.
Which brings us to the media, which was clearly so reliant on LIPA spoon feeding them information that, in the hours after the storm, we heard plenty of songs on the radio, but little news. In those fleeting moments when some news became available, all news sources — print and radio — referred the public to check web sites. Problem was, most of us were in the dark, with no connectivity to go to websites. Without power, television news is a mute point. WALK and JVC hooked up, which was progress, but they could’ve capitalized on their combined ability to continually deliver news and information to a desperate public. Barnstable streaming News12 — something I had advocated for long ago — offered news to people who were unable to access it any other way.

Long Island has always lacked enough news gatherers, but what’s happened now is that they are using technology they haven’t quite come to grips with. The lack of education of those running newsrooms never shone more brightly than this past week, when they tried to drive an unconnected public to online news sites for necessary information.

While the media should’ve hunted and haunted LIPA into finding ways to get information out faster, it’s puzzling why local government — with their own emergency management formulas — didn’t step in to help. Prior to the storm, politicians were laudably proactive in protecting the public interest. Perhaps after the storm, they realized their emergency communication plans were not as effective as they thought? Like those reverse311 plans, which call the public to alert them of special situations, such as blocked roads and downed trees. Problem? Many are tied to calling only landlines, and less than one in four U.S. households currently has a land line.

What is abundantly clear is this: All of the so-called emergency communication plans on this Island need to be revamped. Why LIPA let a year-old, notification-via-text plan fall by the wayside is unconscionable. But again, not everyone texts nor has a cell phone, so one method of communication is hardly the answer. Recent history, however, underscores the need for the outlying areas of the United States — places such as New Orleans, Hawaii and now, Long Island — to be required to have superior emergency management plans in place, to protect the public.

This is an issue that all of Long Island has a vested in, and it’s paramount to ensuring the success of what Long Island is to become in the future. If you’re interested in change for the better, count me in.

Solar’s Time Is Now

Introduced by our own Long Island Assembly Member, Steve Englebright (D-East Setauket), the Solar Jobs Act will help offset what is currently the most expensive and polluting slice of New York’s electricity mix, peak generation, with reliable power from the sun.

The calendar says summer isn’t even officially here and Long Islanders are already looking for relief. From the heat, sure, but also from those jaw-dropping summer electric bills that are starting to come in the mail.

The market cost of electricity is continuing its relentless upward trend, which doesn’t bode well for Long Island, where we already pay some of the highest utility rates in the nation. Those bills are particularly high in the summertime, since many of us rely on air conditioners to cool our homes and offices. And adding insult to injury, energy costs nearly double on the hottest days when LIPA switches on those more expensive “peaker” power plants to meet the increased demand.

Who pays? All of Long Island – businesses, residents and government. High energy costs are a serious concern for our fragile economic recovery, and they will only continue to rise unless New York State gets serious about a smarter long-term strategy. Fortunately, there is a solution all around us in the form of clean and abundant solar energy – if only Albany would give the green light.

Right now, our state legislators are weighing a major initiative, called the Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act, that will finally make good on our state’s solar potential. It’s a simple, market-driven proposal that calls on utility companies to gradually increase the amount of solar energy they purchase over time. The goal is to install 5,000 megawatts of solar capacity by 2025, enough to power more than 500,000 homes and get the Empire State back on top.

Introduced by our own Long Island Assembly Member, Steve Englebright (D-East Setauket), the Solar Jobs Act will help offset what is currently the most expensive and polluting slice of New York’s electricity mix, peak generation, with reliable power from the sun. Furthermore, by keeping energy dollars invested in the state, this legislation will have significant immediate and long-term benefits for our economy. It will create 22,000 new local jobs across a broad range of skill levels and generate an estimated $20 billion in economic activity. 

For Long Island, that means more jobs at local companies like KPS Solar. And by drawing on lessons learned in other states, the Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act is designed to deliver those high economic returns at a low cost to ratepayers.

Perhaps most importantly, this legislation will finally give solar energy the policy foundations needed to build a strong, self-sustaining local market. All across the country, states that have effective solar policies are seeing lower energy costs – which, in turn, drives additional demand for solar that lowers its cost even further (what economists call a “virtuous cycle”). In those states, utilities are already signing contracts for solar power that are at or below the price of natural gas. The Solar Jobs Act would effectively move New York’s solar industry beyond one-off projects by steadily building a robust new energy economy.

This solar initiative is far from pie in the sky. In fact, just look next door to see how well it is working. New Jersey implemented exactly the kind of solar program we are contemplating right now, and as a result, the Garden State installed more solar capacity last year than the Empire State has in its entire history. New Jersey now generates more than six times as much solar energy as New York. And because it has a first-to-market advantage, New Jersey has one of the most robust clean-energy sectors on the East Coast – including all those green jobs that should be ours.

The clean-energy future that Long Islanders have wanted for years could be a reality before legislators break for the summer. The Solar Jobs Act has bipartisan support in the Assembly and Senate, and is sponsored by 17 members of Long Island’s delegation (3 Senate, 14 Assembly). Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) will play a critical role in its passage, and he has been supportive in recent discussions. The Solar Jobs Act also fits perfectly within Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign promise to help create a thriving innovation economy.

In other words, there is no good reason New York can’t get this bill done in June. The Solar Jobs Act opens the door to a smarter, safer and more economical future. If Long Island continues to rely on fossil fuels, electric bills will only go up and up with each passing summer. The sun, on the other hand, is NOT raising its rates this year; sunlight will always be free and solar energy is getting cheaper all the time.

Kevin MacLeod, president of KPS Solar based in Bay Shore and staunch advocate for alternative energy, contributed to this article.

Coliseum Casino: Let It Ride

It amuses me to no end that we can build a refuse-burning facility with a Garden City address down the road, but a casino with a hotel, sports arena and convention center threaded by a coordinated transit hub that connects local retail and commerce is a non-starter.

Foxwoods Casino. Oh no, this just wouldn't do. Too pretty for Long Island. Next!

There is a renewed hullaballoo surrounding the proposed Shinnecock casino at the current site of the Nassau Coliseum. A deserved hullaballoo, I might add. The very thought of a casino in the middle of our bustling, albeit struggling, suburban landscape inspires clamorous debate among the many stakeholders that exist in relatively tight quarters. Even lame duck Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is quacking about building a casino at his beloved Yaphank facility claiming that it’s better suited further away from Nassau County residents.

Unfortunately, it will be a cold day in hell before Long Islanders in either county have a say in the matter. People you have never heard of in positions you didn’t know existed will never allow a casino to be built this close to New York City because it would potentially devastate the interests of the people they represent from upstate New York, Connecticut, Atlantic City and Las Vegas. I offer this, not to quell your enthusiasm but to issue a gauntlet of solidarity and self-determination: either we all get behind this, or we drop it from the start.

So let’s have a debate among ourselves. Long Islander to Long Islander. But allow me to establish some ground rules. First, take the emotion out of the ensuing discourse by recognizing that while there is no magic elixir to cure our financial illness on Long Island, Nassau County in particular, we must not allow ourselves to be constrained by classic NIMBYism. There’s nothing wrong with thinking big. Conversely, big thinking doesn’t always ensure positive outcomes. But the only journey that guarantees failure is one that never begins. Taxpayers can no longer afford pusillanimous behavior from elected officials who acquiesce to a vocal minority. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Huntington! Oops. Getting emotional. My bad.)

Further, in order to have a proper discussion we must move past the question of legitimacy; that is, whether the tribe has the right to construct a casino on this parcel. For the purposes of examining the potential impact of this type of development, let us assume that it is within their right to strike an agreement with the government to build on this property. Lastly, the only other stipulation I entreat you to heed is to refrain from casting racially motivated aspersions toward members of the Shinnecock Nation. It detracts from the merit of the debate.

Here are my assertions. Let the debate begin.

If you build it they will come. A casino nestled within such a populous community has the potential of being the largest-grossing casino in the nation. Factor in the public transportation access to this area from New York City residents and this is an irrefutable fact. The impact upon the local economy would be seismic. According to a 2008 study published by the Taylor Policy Group of Sarasota, Fla., the estimated impact of the gaming and related industries of the Seneca Nation in western New York is $820 million annually. The study places this figure in context by stating that “the impact of the Nation exceeds that of the [Buffalo] Bills and the [Buffalo] Sabres combined and approaches that of the SUNY Buffalo campus.” This project would create thousands of sustained jobs and provide badly needed work for the local trades, generate healthy revenues to the Long Island Power Authority and local municipalities, and have an incredible halo effect on the travel, tourism and hospitality industry.

A casino would not create a seedy culture. This particular assertion is hotly debated. Casinos conjure up images of mafia hoods and prostitutes. Never mind that you can already gamble in dozens of OTBs, buy lottery tickets on every corner, find a hooker making the rounds in industrial parks, or get a happy ending at any number of corner massage parlors. The moment a high-priced call girl takes up residence on a casino barstool looking for an out-of-town businessman in a leisure suit with a name badge, our puritan alarm sounds and the torches and pitchforks come out. I’m not condoning the use of escort services, but merely pointing out our collective hypocrisy with respect to our view on what’s acceptable and where. Prohibiting this illegal indulgence is far more manageable than scouring Craigslist and cracking down on neighborhood massage parlors.

This actually is the best location for a casino. The modern casino is part of an extensive array of business and cultural services. They tend to be aesthetically pleasing (think Wynn, not Trump) and boost the viability of a convention center, sports complex and entertainment arena. If a gaming operation was paired with a family destination nearby (think Great Wolf Lodge), imagine the combined economic possibilities of family and business travel. I might also remind everyone that Roosevelt Raceway was a gigantic gambling facility. It amuses me to no end that we can build a refuse-burning facility with a Garden City address down the road, but a casino with a hotel, sports arena and convention center threaded by a coordinated transit hub that connects local retail and commerce is a non-starter.

This development would ease traffic. Yup. I said it. The amount of money generated by a full-fledged hotel, casino and convention operation with a family amusement center would fund the long-desired transportation hub between the railroad, Museum Row, and the local shopping destinations. It’s all right there; you just can’t get there from here at the moment.

The Islanders are worth fighting for. This team stood by Long Island for decades. Hell, they even looked pretty good at the end of this season and their prospects for next year are even better. This is our only professional sports franchise. Like I said, the Islanders are worth fighting for.

Hofstra would benefit greatly from this development. Hofstra University is emerging as the largest and most vocal detractor of this project. This is completely understandable given the fears gambling inspires. The two most salient points the University is making are that college kids shouldn’t have this type of access to a gambling establishment and that its proximity will have a deleterious effect on the school’s image from the perspective of parents considering sending their children to the school.

First of all, kids are gambling online and addicted to video games. This will be the addiction cross to bear for this generation. As for the perceptual aesthetic and moral issues of a peripheral gaming establishment, it’s hard to imagine the current “approach” to the University being any worse. I love the Hofstra campus but the immediate surroundings, including the dilapidated coliseum, leave much to be desired. Hofstra is a serious stakeholder that would and should be able to ask for the sun, moon and stars when the infrastructure is fully developed here. President Stuart Rabinowitz has done more to enhance the reputation of this institution, from which I proudly hold a degree, by hosting the Presidential debate, building a medical school and improving the overall academic standing of the school. Hofstra is already bigger than its environs and will continue to be so for decades to come, casino or no casino. Besides, you tell me which option sounds worse to a parent in Nebraska with a child considering a top-notch school in New York:

(A) Columbia University in Harlem,
(B) Fordham University in the Bronx, or
(C) Hofstra University on Long Island.

By now, I’m confident several of you vehemently disagree with these assertions. I welcome your commentsbelow and look forward to continuing the conversation.

With that, let the games (of chance) begin.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW PREVIOUS ARTICLE ON THE SHINNECOCK RECOGNITION

Nuclear Fallout

Today, twenty-two years after the death of our nuclear power potential, those opposed to the plant may have their final moment of vindication as we witness the horrors unfolding in Japan as a result of the earthquake and tsunami.

The Cover Image of the Press story on Shoreham, twenty years later.

Growing up on Long Island, Shoreham was always more of a word than a place. It meant “nuclear”. Not a coastal town above scenic 25A on my beloved Long Island. Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. As a child of the 80’s that was the extent of my understanding of this thing called Shoreham. Most people remember Shoreham as the focal point of a historic clash between anti-nuclear advocates and the embattled Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) that ended in the decommissioning of both the plant and the commission itself. Long Island was left with a structural eyesore, $6billion in debt, a new authority called LIPA and the highest electric rates in the country.

Today, twenty-two years after the death of our nuclear power potential, those opposed to the plant may have their final moment of vindication as we witness the horrors unfolding in Japan as a result of the earthquake and tsunami.

Japan is in the middle of a natural disaster biblical in scale. Mother Nature unleashed a furor that leveled coastal areas and infrastructure as though they were architectural renderings and not the real thing. Home to some of the greatest engineers and most innovative structures ever conceived in the modern era, Japan is struggling to contain the very worst of all human fears: nuclear fallout. On the other side of the world it has Long Islanders whispering, “there but for the grace of God…”

Two years ago the Long Island Press news team visited the decommissioned plant and walked with the ghosts of our past through the core of the power plant. (Click here to view the cover story) It was part of a twenty-year anniversary retrospective on the closing of the plant. As a young, eager staff we walked wide-eyed through the cavernous structure in disbelief. It was something out of an old sci-fi movie. It didn’t seem real. The officials from LIPA responsible for upkeep on the property guided us through the maze of concrete tunnels, into the control room and even into the core of what was once the reactor. By this time we were all uncharacteristically silent and in awe.

In a post 9-11 world, our guides took great pains to explain how the plant was engineered to withstand the impact of a fully-fueled 747, the largest passenger plane ever constructed at the time. We didn’t think to ask what might happen if as storm the size of the “Long Island Express” hurricane in 1938 blew through again or, God forbid, an earthquake followed by a tsunami. There are, after all, limits to the human imagination. Mother Nature’s imagination, on the other hand, seems to know no bounds.

As we struggle with our energy past and future and mine the resources of the planet to feed our insatiable desire for economic and human population expansion, we are witnessing yet another reminder that the eyes of the world may be bigger than our collective stomach. Tonight I’ll be raising a glass to Richie Kessel and those who had the foresight to know that just because you can build something it doesn’t always mean you should. Six billion dollars and high electric rates now seem like a small price to pay. Then I will say a quiet prayer, alongside six billion others, for those who lost their lives at the hands of a fate they couldn’t control. May this disaster be over and forever be categorized as “natural” and not be prolonged by something manmade.

Building a Rock Wall on Long Island

Part of the insanity that my profession breeds is an incessant preoccupation with how things work, or more often than not, why they don’t. In this instance, constructing a secure and level foundation has my mind drawing the inevitable comparisons to the global economy, which is collapsing under its own weight

I’m building a wall. Not in the figurative or symbolic sense, but an actual, solid masonry wall in my backyard, simply because there isn’t one there. A perfectly logical endeavor in a heat wave. Until this point my hands have been useful for typing, forming a fist to shake madly at the heavens and guiding utensils from plate to mouth in what is commonly referred to as eating. Never have I been accused of being handy, making my latest pursuit slightly quixotic to those who love me.

Upon learning of this latest quest, my friend Johnny Gallo immediately understood the anodyne meaning behind it. It was Johnny whose quiet inspiration prompted me to turn my dream of a backyard vegetable garden into a reality by offering encouragement, with a measured degree of sarcasm, and the necessary tools to get started. I have written before of his stoic, old-school character, which explains why he showed up one day with a tamper, trowel, level and well wishes as I began excavating the area that will someday be framed by this wall.  

Johnny instinctively knew my undertaking was, as he referred to it, therapy. It’s why he demurred when our wives implored him to partake in my madness, lest I mutilate myself in the process. He simply said, “Let the man be.”

Part of the insanity that my profession breeds is an incessant preoccupation with how things work, or more often than not, why they don’t. In this instance, constructing a secure and level foundation has my mind drawing the inevitable comparisons to the global economy, which is collapsing under its own weight.

Even my diminutive contribution to our home landscape requires careful planning and assiduous attention to detail, particularly to the foundation. The foundation itself changes slightly, however, with every layer of dirt that is uncovered. Like anything built to be sustainable, it’s what is below the surface that is most important to the future. You cannot plaster over pieces of our infrastructure without properly incorporating or eliminating them altogether. Consider the living—or dying—case study that is Detroit. Public officials there are contemplating, and in some cases already executing, a plan to raze enormous tracts of blighted development with the realization that a barren landscape is perhaps better than a crumbling one.

There is little doubt our current economy must be rebuilt and history may or may not provide the answers and insight we seek. For better or for worse, the financial markets in the post-bailout period are acting as opiates and somehow shifted from being leading to lagging indicators. Bankers and traders are surrounding the hookah and inhaling the smoke being burned by Congress and the Fed, engaging in what my friend Peter Klein from UBS calls “interest rate euphoria.”

In theory, low interest rates encourage lending and, as a result, growth. But our interest rates are so low the banks have been playing the ultimate arbitrage game by taking cheap money from the government and investing it in securities with a higher yield. And despite the decade-long data from Japan, who handled their enduring recession in precisely the same manner without success, we continue to blithely walk the same path. At some point, interest rates must rise and federal dollars must be put to some use other than filling bankers’ coffers.

Nevertheless, the administration is in a no-win position. We will never know whether or not we avoided a total cataclysm in the months following the banking collapse in late 2008. Perhaps we did. It’s hard to argue with the logic that the combination of stimulus dollars and miniscule interest rates staved off a second Great Depression. Even if this is the case, we are simply extending the pain and laying the groundwork for a deep and long-term recession.

Perhaps the most positive sign to come from the White House recently was President Obama’s decision to make a $2 billion investment into two huge solar manufacturers in the United States. Generating this level of interest in micro-renewable technology will put more than just the manufacturing companies to work; it will have a ripple effect to the building trades and ultimately benefit the residential market.

Everywhere, that is, but here on Long Island.

The one gigantic, jagged rock in our foundation that makes it impossible to build anything sustainable and participate in the renewable energy revolution is the debt load that drowns our local utility. Until our federal and state elected officials come to the realization that forward movement is impossible as long as we are hamstrung by the $6 billion albatross that is Shoreham, we are destined to tread water, or worse.

Biotech, pharmaceuticals, medical research and information technology are all sectors of our local economy poised for explosive growth. For years, business leaders and elected officials have been calling for a renaissance in these areas, but have been stymied by the intractable high cost of living. While school taxes receive the majority of our ire, the fact is our primary export is the talented youth we educate on the Island; the trick is to create a job market and economic climate that encourages them to stay. Working on a plan to reduce the Shoreham debt over the next decade will help level the playing field to attract companies to the region and allow LIPA to encourage and finance residential investments into renewable technologies. Perhaps we can dream so far as to close one of our inefficient, belching gas plants on the Island and even imagine the day LIPA is no longer necessary.

Should we continue to ignore this debt on Long Island, our foundation will remain insecure. And while America may indeed succeed in establishing a new foundation and build a new wall we can be proud of, Long Island may find itself on the other side of it.

Stimulate My Package

shorehamAnd now for a tremendous over-simplification about the stimulus package. But first – a rant.

 

According to The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a U.S. based non-profit organization, the US Department of Agriculture considered 36.2 million people in the United States to be “food insecure” in 2007. Food insecurity is defined as “recurring and involuntary lack of access to food.” Of these 35.2 million Americans, 12.4 million are children.

 

One of W’s last acts in 2008 to preserve the banking system was to sign a $700billion stimulus package to save the banking industry. President Obama has already pushed through in 2009 an additional $787billion package to fix everything else.

 

Where was all this money when American children were going hungry in 2007? Oh, that’s right. China. We are borrowing all of this money from a country that routinely allows its massive rural population to go hungry because they have saved their pennies more wisely from selling crap to the United States for the past twenty five years.

 

I think we need to realign our priorities where emergency funding is concerned. Now, on to the stimulus package.

 

So the United States has managed to print/steal/borrow $787billion and is going to shower Americans with dollar bills like strippers in the topless nightclub rotunda of Congress. Cool. As much as I would like to “get me some of that” money raining down from the heavens I have an idea of how we can really kioli this package and ask for what is fair.

 

Twenty years ago environmental and energy advocates on Long Island successfully shuttered the Shoreham Nuclear Energy plant yet we have been living with this albatross ever since. Every year the Long Island Power Authority services the debt on the six billion dollars it took to build Shoreham. We cannot get ahead of it. Every one that moves here receives a little slice of nuclear debt like a finance charge on a parking ticket we all got in the 80’s.

 

Whatever your opinion of the larger-than-life Richie Kessel, he was responsible for transforming LIPA into a forward thinking enterprise and implemented ambitious efficiency programs. There were gaffs along the way and sometimes it appeared to be more about Richie than LIPA but he was an effective leader and persuasive communicator. His demon was the debt left over from the Shoreham debacle; ironically a project he was instrumental in shutting down.

 

Enter Kevin Law. Brilliant, affable and well-connected. Law has assembled an enviable team of professionals that are equally suited to run either county (and have). His team is bent on transforming and streamlining LIPA, but they too are strangled by the Shoreham debt that casts a shadow over us all.

 

This debt has left us with the highest energy rates in the nation. Many businesses can barely afford to stay here and we have little shot of attracting new, major companies who offer significant employment opportunities. Developers struggle too with creating new affordable homes for our young people, in large due to the high cost of energy production on the island. It affects every home owner, every landlord, every business and every municipality. The debt is crushing us and hampering LIPA’s ability to transform the way we think about energy and conservation on Long Island.

 

As awful and backwards as this sounds, LIPA cannot afford to help Long Islanders conserve too much energy because it simply costs too much to be LIPA. Every time a Long Islander installs solar power in his or her home, the rest of us pick up the freight. In a time when the green movement and energy efficiency will provide the best opportunity for Long Island to transform itself as a region, it is the ultimate conundrum.

 

This is where our Congressional leaders can help. Gary, Carolyn, Pete, Steve and Tim… listen up. There are 303 million people in the United States. Congress is handing out $787 billion dollars. That’s $2,590 per person in the U.S. if we were to evenly allocate the money spent among our population. Long Island has approximately 2.7 million people, which means our fair share of the stimulus package should be around 6.9 billion dollars. See where I’m going with this yet?

 

Retire LIPA’s debt.

 

Put money back in everyone’s pocket.

Allow Kevin Law to freely implement conservation and efficiency programs on Long Island.

Make us more competitive in attracting new companies to Long Island and help preserve existing businesses.

 

Go do your jobs and get our money. We never asked for Shoreham. We never asked for this debt. It’s your responsibility to get us out of this mess and give this region a fighting shot to reinvent itself and stay competitive for years to come.