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Numbers not an issue in the past

It’s a small island.

That fact became strikingly clear last week when Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute, hit the road with a report that blasted the economics of LIPA’s proposed offshore wind farm.

As LIPA chief executive Richard Kessel unsheathed his PR sword (much used of late) to begin parrying the Dowling College-based study, one uncomfortable fact came to light: Cantor for years was Kessel’s personal accountant.

Only Kessel could find the words to attack his longtime friend and his new institute’s inaugural report while not raising suspicions about the accuracy of his past tax returns. “I hope he did a better job on my tax returns than he did on this report,” Kessel said last week.

Cantor said he hasn’t done Kessel’s taxes in “four or five years,” as he focuses more time on regional policy issues from his outpost at Dowling.

Of Kessel’s criticisms about the South Shore wind-farm report, which concluded contractor Florida Power & Light Co. would reap a windfall, as it were, while saddling ratepayers with “another Shoreham” (the nuclear power plant that never opened), Cantor countered, “I challenge them to open up their numbers and show us how bogus the numbers are.”

Kessel last week said he’d do that as early as next month. He explained he’s just getting up to speed on the project after taking it over from ex-chief of staff Ed Grilli, who retired last month, and the contract is still being negotiated. Kessel declined, however, to release updated figures FPL gave to LIPA in 2005, documents that reflected a “substantial” increase in costs from the winning bid of $356 million for construction alone.

Kessel also is preparing to undertake a review of the wind farm, as mandated by LIPA chairman Kevin Law. “I want a full economic analysis,” he said in an e-mail Thursday night. “And while I support renewable energy, I am not going to do it on the backs of ratepayers.”

For now, Kessel is not letting his old friend and his institute off lightly. On LIPA’s Web site late last week Kessel called the Dowling study “narrow-focused and short-sighted” for failing to account for possible fossil-fuel price increases. Importantly, Kessel also introduced a condition on LIPA’s finalizing the FPL contract, saying LIPA “will not enter into any agreement that would affect rates more than a traditional power plant would.”

Among his jabs has been to wonder aloud whether Dowling President Robert Gaffney’s past county executive campaign fund, which contributed $50,000 to launch the institute, also paid for the study. Cantor was unequivocal.

“The report did not cost a nickel,” he said. “It was done on [author] Dr. Mark Greer’s own time.”

By Mark Harrington


9 April 2007