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Source: Long Island Business News

Search for LIPA’s next CEO faces new obstacles


Posted: July 7, 2010
Originally Published: July 2, 2010

As the Long Island Power Authority board conducts its search for a chief to replace Kevin Law, who’s leaving to lead the Long Island Association in September, the authority faces a bewildering number of issues complicating the choice.

Some observers want the LIPA chief to have extensive alternative energy experience. Others want the next leader to have experience running utilities and setting rates. Still others would prefer someone able to navigate the local Long Island scene.

Sheldon Sackstein, former LIPA trustee and chairman of the board of Action Long Island, said the authority is deciding who to lead it before knowing what the organization will look like in a few years.

LIPA is considering numerous “strategic alternatives” that include its structure and whether it would become a full-fledged utility, rather than outsourcing work. LIPA is also considering selling the transmission system.

“I think it would be useful to get somebody who has an energy background,” Sackstein said. “We need a clearer definition of what LIPA could be and should be.”

LIPA’s duel mission as a public authority and overseer of electrical power puts it in a position where, unlike private companies, its leaders must look at more than simply profits and economics.

“We want whatever choice they make to be in the best interest of the public with the most talent and the most vision,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “A public power authority is supposed to incorporate the public interest and the public values, getting the best value for a dollar and implementing a clean and safe energy vision.”

LIPA board chairman Howard Steinberg said the authority is looking for someone able to bridge utilities and the public interest, not an easy thing to do.

“I think we have a good idea of the profile of our ideal candidate,” he said. “The question is how close we can come to the ideal candidate. Someone who possesses all the qualities one would want in a CEO of LIPA.”

He said the new CEO should understand the utility industry, communicate well, be familiar with green energy and energy efficiency, know how to manage organizations and understand local issues.

“We are doing a national search. We’ll see which candidates we come up with,” he said. “We want somebody who has an understanding of the energy industry. Whether that person has worked for a utility or not is an open question.”

Steinberg appointed a four-member search committee including Diana Weir, X. Cristofer Damianos, Laurence Belinsky and himself to review and vet initial applicants.

The authority in late May also hired executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles to provide candidates. Heidrick & Struggles’ utility search practice is led by Bryan L. Proctor, a partner based in Chicago, who prior to joining the firm in 2000 worked for executive search firms in New York City.

Steinberg said knowledge of Long Island “definitely will be a plus,” but the authority didn’t tell the search firm to limit its geographic reach.

“If it’s someone not from Long Island, they could come here exclusively based on merits and credentials,” Sackstein said. “If you take someone from Long Island, which is a nice thing, there may be a political tinge.”

Esposito said she was concerned LIPA might select executives from National Grid, formerly KeySpan, which maintains the transmission grid and operates Long Island’s largest power plants.

“LIPA has to negotiate with National Grid on power purchase agreements,” she said. “We need someone who will negotiate for what’s best for the public, not for National Grid. You can’t do both. We need someone who will fight for us.”

But some board members said excluding National Grid executives could mean eliminating qualified candidates. “I think it’s about the individual and their expertise and depth of knowledge,” said Neal Lewis, a LIPA board member and executive director of the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College.

Sackstein said timing could complicate things even more. A new governor, who appoints the majority of board members, and new legislators next year could mean LIPA’s leader would have to work with people who didn’t approve his appointment.

“You’re going to have a whole new set of people in terms of a governor and a Senate,” Sackstein said. “Would that make the next administration happy with that person?”