This timeline came mostly from the Long Island Lighting Company History in the International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 5. St. James Press, 1992 and Newsday articles as well as testimony from LIPA CEO Tom Falcone, where noted. We rely on their veracity, so there may be inaccuracies beyond our control.
The Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) has had a long history of disputes over rate increases, environmental issues, and other concerns. Choose a decade:
1910-1919 | 1920-1929 | 1930-1939 | 1940-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969
1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | 2020-present
1910: E.L. Phillips and Company, later to become the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO), was incorporated in 1910 by merging four small Suffolk County utilities: the Amityville Electric Light Company, the Islip Electric Light Company, the Northport Electric Light Company, and the Sayville Electric Company.
1911: the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) allowed LILCO to begin to function. LILCO continued to make improvements to its system for generating and delivering electric power.
1915: The company acquired the Babylon Electric Light Company.
1917: added the Suffolk Gas & Electric Light company and the South Shore Gas Company. In addition, the company charter was amended in 1917 to provide coverage for all villages and towns in Suffolk County plus parts of adjacent Nassau County.
1918: The Huntington Light & Power Company, the Huntington Gas Company, and the North Shore Electric Light & Power Company were bought.
1919: A major gas explosion at the Bay Shore works in 1919 interrupted service for three days. The accident pointed to the need for upgrading facilities and improvements followed. It eventually supplied electric and gas service in Nassau and Suffolk counties and the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens County, a service area of 1,230 square miles.
1927: First organized opposition to a rate increase and petitioned for a rate decrease to the PSC. The petition failed, but the PSC initiated comprehensive audits of LILCO and all other utilities in New York. Simultaneously, the state legislature established a committee to investigate the utility business.
1930: A series of hearings began that subjected the company to intense scrutiny. Nearly every aspect of LILCO's business was examined, including salaries, dividends, legal fees, contracts with E.L. Phillips and Company, and construction costs.
1932: In response to this negative publicity, the company inaugurated a community responsibility program. The company developed display models of its electric system, produced a movie about itself, and promoted tours of its facilities by school groups and clubs.
1938: The 1938 New England Hurricane was one of the deadliest, preceded by ten days of rain, it caused damage estimated at $500,000 to LILCO's equipment. Most service in Nassau County and 85% of service in Suffolk County was restored within four days.
1944: The 1944 Great Atlantic hurricane knocked out 91% of LILCO's system. Most power was restored in about 12 days, aided considerably by LILCO's use of Nassau County's police radio network. LILCO installed its own radio system after this.
1945: Ellis Phillips retired as chairman of the board and Edward F. Barrett was named chief executive officer, later to be named chairman.
1945: The company received permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the PSC to effect a corporate reorganization by bringing most of its subsidiaries into a consolidated Long Island Lighting Company.
1945: Long Island's greatest period of growth, spurred by the migration of thousands of returning veterans and their new families to hundreds of bedroom communities such as Levittown, was just about to begin. LILCO met this challenge by building new facilities, constructing new main lines, and establishing a connection to Consolidated Edison, its corporate neighbor to the west.
1948: All New York State power systems were interconnected by 1948, a cooperative arrangement that played a key role in the great blackout of 1965.
1950: Following many negotiations and preliminary decisions the reorganization gained final approval.
1953: the PSC granted LILCO a 3.5% rate increase, the first general electric rate boost in the company's history.
1954: LILCO joined Atomic Power Development Associates to look for practical ways to use atomic materials to generate electricity.
1954: Three hurricanes (Aug 30 Hurricane Carol; Sept 10 Hurricane Edna; and Oct 15 Hurricane Hazel) caused severe damage and added $1.4 million to the year's operating expenses.
1957: LILCO purchased land in Northport for what would become the largest power station in the country at the time, the Northport Power Station. It is the largest power generation facility on Long Island.
1959: LILCO's residential customers numbered more than half a million and annual revenues topped $100 million.
1960: Peak load electric use passed one million kilowatts in 1960.
1965 April: LILCO announced its intention to build a nuclear power plant on Long Island.
1966: LILCO bought land in the north shore village of Shoreham for a 540-megawatt plant estimated to cost between $65 - $75 million. A proposal to construct a second nuclear facility in Lloyd Harbor led to the creation of a citizens' group in opposition.
1968: Summer peak increased at twice the anticipated rate, LILCO increased the Shoreham plant capacity to 820-megawatts. This was probably due to the increased use of air conditioning.
1969: Citizens to Replace LILCO completed a study and branded both plants uneconomical and unsafe. The Lloyd Harbor proposal was withdrawn, but LILCO pressed on with Shoreham.
1970: Federal construction permit hearings began before the Atomic Energy Commission, but citizen awareness of environmental hazards had grown considerably. The federal Environmental Policy Act in the same year forced developers to guarantee that their projects would do no ecological harm.
1970: Hearings set records for length and complexity: 100 witnesses were heard in 70 sessions, 401 legal briefs were filed, and 20,000 pages of transcripts resulted. Three issues became paramount: the environmental impact of the plant's construction, safety measures in case of an accident, and the effects of radiation. The opposition also raised a new concern--how Long Island would be evacuated in the event of an emergency.
1973: The Atomic Energy Commission ruled that the evacuation issue need not be addressed until Shoreham applied for an operating license, and the commission granted LILCO a construction permit.
1973: The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo drove petroleum prices steeply upward, and consumers conceded the need for alternative energy sources. As a result, LILCO raised its rates 13 times over the course of the next 12 years to offset rising costs. Every time rates were increased, demand dropped, and the company's fiscal woes deepened.
1977: The price tag for completing the Shoreham plant, which was running well behind schedule, jumped to $1.2 billion. LILCO blamed both on increased federal regulations, but outside studies pointed to poor supervision and abusive labor practices as well.
1979: The March accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania delayed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC, formerly the Atomic Energy Commission) consideration of an operating license for Shoreham. It also stimulated the anti-Shoreham faction and crystallized the debate around the evacuation issue. With the threat of a nuclear accident now a demonstrated possibility, the fate of Shoreham was thrown into mainstream politics on Long Island and throughout New York state. Governor Hugh Carey and Nassau County Executive Francis T. Purcell continued to support the project, as did The New York Times and Long Island's Newsday.
After Three Mile Island, the NRC required all nuclear plant operators to develop an evacuation plan in conjunction with local and state governments. Suffolk County officials clashed with LILCO over virtually every aspect of the proposed plan, and eventually the county ended attempts to come to an agreement. One by one, county leaders dropped their support of the plant. Suffolk County Executive Peter Cohalan, once in favor, changed his mind when he attempted to visit the plant site and found the gates locked.
1983: The Suffolk County Legislature voted 15 to 1 that it believed the county could not be safely evacuated. Governor Mario Cuomo agreed and ordered state officials not to sanction any emergency response plan sponsored by LILCO.
The company's general financial health declined seriously during this crisis. Bond-rating agencies downgraded LILCO's bonds, and bankruptcy became a possibility. Critics accused the company of pushing ahead for an operating license for Shoreham simply to begin charging customers for the construction as the plant neared completion.
1983: LILCO discovered cracks in the crankshafts of all three back-up diesel generators, two of which would be needed to shut the plant down in an emergency.
1984: The fight dragged on, and LILCO persisted against considerable opposition from government, the public, and the local business community. The company's directors voted to withhold payment of $26.2 million in county and local property taxes to protest opposition to the plant. With the crisis at its height, LILCO's president retired, and its chairman was replaced by a board member with little experience in utilities. He commenced a massive austerity program, including cutting 1,000 jobs from a 5,900-member workforce, but continued to support Shoreham.
1984: Construction on Shoreham was completed.
1985: The NRC approved operation at 5% of capacity, a low-level test prior to final licensing.
1985: The Suffolk County Executive, fearful that LILCO’s troubles could cause financial ruin for Suffolk County, flipflopped on his opposition in exchange for receiving the company's back taxes.
1985: The public rejected LILCO employees’ simulated evacuation of the area within a 10-mile radius of the plant. Whatever little credibility this drill might have accomplished, in September it was nullified when Hurricane Gloria knocked out electricity to two thirds of its customers. LILCO took more than a week to restore power during which time the LILCO Chairman and Chief Executive Officer remained on vacation rather than returning to Long Island.
1986: The estimated cost of completing the Shoreham plant continued to rise to $4.6 billion, an increase of more than $1 million a day between 1981 and 1986.
1986: The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant meltdown disaster convinced the public and some legislators that nuclear power could never be safe. Support grew for a public corporation to take over LILCO and close Shoreham.
1986: The NYS legislature passed the Long Island Power Act of 1985 that created the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). This public authority would acquire the LILCO electric infrastructure and the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant and assume its debt, which was about $6 billion at the time. Meanwhile the gas portion of the business and the functioning power plants—and most of the workers—were to be sold to the new gas utility KeySpan, a merger of LILCO’s gas business and Brooklyn Union Gas.Governor Mario Cuomo signed it into law.
LILCO was delighted for LIPA to take over its debt because it was facing bankruptcy. The CEO and other high-level management got enormous golden parachutes (totaling over $67 million in 1985 dollars), the stockholders received a big dividend, and the ratepayers were left holding the bag.
The Shoreham settlement process was protracted and most of the provisions did not come to realization until 1998. Meanwhile LILCO continued to operate everything.
1987: The NRC decided to relax its rule that the government had to participate in creation of a disaster plan.
1987: A week later, the state PSC for the first time denied LILCO's request for an $83 million rate hike and ordered the company and the state to end their deadlock.
1989: LILCO also settled a lawsuit Suffolk County had brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, resumed dividend payments, and refinanced its long-term debt. The cost of absorbing the Shoreham debt pushed LILCO's electric rates to the highest of any utility in the country. LILCO seemed to recover some fiscal stability in the wake of the settlement. The price of its common stock rose, and it sold a $1.1 billion offering of unsecured bonds.
1989: Finally, the PSC endorsed a settlement that was approved by LILCO stockholders. Under its terms, Shoreham was to be fully licensed to operate, transferred to LIPA for $1, and closed. Meanwhile, LILCO was granted permission for a series of annual rate increases, targeted at 5% per year, for a ten-year period.
1990: Oil prices and inflation rose at rates higher than anticipated, due to the Persian Gulf crisis, and threatened the stability of the proposed 5% annual rate increases. The company's future was thrown into doubt.
1991: LILCO requested rate hikes for the next three years with certain adjustments that would keep the 5% ceiling intact.
1998: The final Federal approval was received for LIPA to take over LILCO's electrical transmission network and the unopened Shoreham nuclear plant. The rest of LILCO, including its functioning power plants and natural gas businesses, merged with Brooklyn Union Gas to form KeySpan.
The Long Island Power Act of 1985 left LIPA with no key components or systems to operate the grid so that in 1998 a public-private partnership contract was initiated with KeySpan as a stopgap to keep the lights on.
2007: KeySpan was taken over by UK-based National Grid USA.
2012: Superstorm Sandy, a combination of the largest Atlantic hurricane on record and a nor’easter, destroyed or severely damaged approximately 100,000 residences on Long Island, including 2,000 that were rendered uninhabitable. A record more than a million (91%+) LIPA customers were without power. In 2016, the hurricane was determined to have been the worst to strike the New York City area since at least 1700.
Breezy Point, a neighborhood in the LIPA service territory on the western end of the Rockaway Peninsula, was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. About 350 houses were destroyed and hundreds more damaged by flooding and fires. About 130 homes burned to the ground and another nearby 50 homes were damaged by a six-alarm fire caused by rising seawater contacting a house's electrical wires.
Governor Andrew Cuomo (Mario’s son) blamed National Grid for a poor response to Sandy. He said the storm response exposed deep flaws in the structure and regulation of power utilities that would require a complete redesign. He threatened to take action against those utilities and their management if they did not meet their obligations to New Yorkers in this time of crisis.
2013: Governor Cuomo revoked National Grid's certificate of public convenience and necessity, this revocation prevented Nat Grid from operating the LIPA grid after 12/31/2013.
2014: A new franchise was awarded to New Jersey-based utility Public Service Enterprise Group, which created the subsidiary PSEG Long Island. PSEG LI was selected to essentially privatize LIPA after the controversies surrounding Sandy. It took over near complete control of the system including its billing service and brand name, leaving LIPA primarily a financial company. (Under National Grid the system was operated under the LIPA name, and only a number of functions were performed by private sector National Grid.)
2020: Tropical Storm Isaias revealed a shockingly unresponsive new and expensive PSEG Long Island outage management system. At least 646,000 customers were without power for days because PSEG did not know where the power was out because most customers were unable to report downed wires and outages.
2020: The LIPA Options Analysis for the Management of LIPA Assets (Phase I), by a LIPA task force investigating PSEG’s response to the storm, found that for weeks before the storm landed on Aug. 4, PSEG Long Island officials knew of significant computer-system problems with the outage management system that ultimately crippled their response to the storm, according to the scathing report. "Mismanagement" by PSEG, was the root cause. The company "did not adequately prepare" for the storm, didn’t properly stress-test the computer and telecom systems, and didn’t have manual backup plans in place.
And to add insult to injury, at a public LIPA Board of Trustees meeting the PSEG CEO denied knowing about the problems, even as he was presented with copies of his emails replying to the problem reports.
2020: Public outrage with the LIPA report, coupled with a history of high rates and poor service, led a group of concerned ratepayers and organizations to form the Reimagine LIPA campaign. Three previous studies compared the existing public-private model, full privatization and fully public systems, and the public model seemed to be best for customers.
2021: Senator Gaughran and Assemblymember Thiele stepped forward to craft legislation to create a bill to empanel a legislative commission to draft a report and create a roadmap with specific actions, legislation, and timeline necessary to restructure LIPA into a locally controlled publicly owned and run power authority.
2021: LIPA's Phase II Report: Options Analysis for the Management of LIPA Assets was released and spelled out all the reasons customers would be better off with a fully public electric utility. Despite LIPA's own analysis and feedback provided by the Reimagine LIPA campaign and others, the LIPA Board of Trustees was pushed by Albany to renew their contract with PSEG through the end of 2025. They claimed satisfaction over procuring better terms.
2022: Lobbying by the Reimagine LIPA campaign helped achieve inclusion of the “Legislative Commission on the Future of LIPA Act” in the FY2022-2023 state budget. The Legislative Commission was born.
Legislative Commission members were named: Senators Kevin Thomas (co-chair), James Gaughran, James Sanders, Phil Boyle, and Assemblymembers Fred W, Thiele, Jr. (co-chair), Stacey Pheffer Amato, Judy Griffin, and Doug Smith.
Advisory Committee members were named: Bob Catell, Matthew Cohen, Leslie Davis, Pat Guidice, Ralph Kreitzman, Dr. Michael Menser, PhD, Farrah Mozawalla, Dolores Orr, Mitch Pally, Supervisor Ed Romaine, Brookhaven, Kyle Strober, Tela Troge, Lisa Tyson, Robert Vecchio, and Dr. Edward Williams.
2023:The Legislative Commission members changed as a result of the 2022 elections. The members are now Senators Kevin Thomas (co-chair), James Sanders, Anthony Palumbo, and Monica Martinez and Assemblymembers Fred W, Thiele, Jr. (co-chair), Stacey Pheffer Amato, Doug Smith, and Michaelle Solages.