BALDWIN - A state official has proposed a new bill that would require the Long Island Power Authority to get approval before subjecting its customers to major rate hikes. The proposal by Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Nassau) would force LIPA to get approval from the state's Public Service Commission for rate increases of more than 2.5 percent per year. Sweeney says LIPA currently gets away with unchecked rate increases by labeling them "surcharges." "I think we are long overdue for some sort of oversight of LIPA," he says.

LIPA counters that if it's regulated by the PSC, the utility's bond rating could be downgraded, which would cost customers even more because of increased interest rates.However, officials say that just about every utility nationwide answers to some form of outside regulation.

The discussion comes on the heels of a LIPA announcement last week that customers could face a 1.5 percent hike in 2012. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D-N.Y.) staff met with legislative leaders in Albany last week to discuss the bill. The governor has until the end of the year to sign or veto the bill.