SOMERS, N.Y. - Increasingly frequent power outages and a recent spike in electricity rates have residents and elected officials demanding significant changes in the way the local utility does business in Somers.
New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) is simply not “delivering what they’re being paid to do, which is providing power that doesn’t go out every few minutes,” said Councilman Anthony J. Cirieco at the Town Board’s May 3 work session.
Beyond the utility’s aging infrastructure, one of the biggest issues is lack of communication, said Supervisor Rick Morrissey.
This failure was especially evident during emergencies such as last winter’s back-to-back nor’easters that turned the lights out for thousands of NYSEG customers in the region, he said.
“Nothing bothers people more than not being heard,” Councilman Richard Clinchy said at the work session Thursday.
Manor Lane resident Josephine Bastone, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, said she appreciated the town’s efforts to hold NYSEG’s feet to the fire, but that data coming from the utility–especially about power outages–should be taken with a grain of salt.
Bastone, an accountant by profession, has been keeping careful records of outages in her neighborhood since 2012.
“In 2016, there were 10; in 2017, 14. So far this year, there have been eight,” she said.
The last time it happened, she claimed, the utility actually argued with her over the time it took to restore her electricity.
“I ought to know how long my power was out,” Bastone told the board.
Among the things the town is trying to pin down is exactly where and when NYSEG plans to install new equipment.
Binghamton-based NYSEG has about 7,000 customers in Somers and close to 2,500 in North Salem.
Early last month, the utility unveiled its five-year plan for shoring up electrical systems in Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties. Included in its $1.3 billion 2018 capital improvement budget are: tree pruning; replacing substandard poles and adding heavier gauge wires; replacing breakers and transformers, and installing seven reclosure units in Somers. If winds, or a tree, takes down a wire, the units kill the bad circuit and reconnect everyone else.
“So instead of 1,000 homes losing power, only 500 will,” Morrissey noted Thursday.
Officials allow that good communication cuts both ways.
About 80 percent of the trees in the bucolic community are outside of NYSEG’s right-of-way. Because of privacy issues, it can’t tell the town directly on which properties potentially dangerous trees are located. So it’s up to the property owners themselves to notify the town and the utility.
Don Beasdale, co-chairman of the Somers Energy Environment Committee (SEEC), agreed, citing the anti-terrorism campaign slogan: “If you see something, say something.”
Morrissey said he realizes that no one wants to prune or take down a beloved oak or maple, but public safety must take precedence.
Citing the maple outside the Elephant Hotel, the historic building that houses town offices, as a “perfect example,” the supervisor said: “Do I want to see it trimmed or taken down? No, but the fact of the matter is, the wires are growing right through its branches.”
The town recently put together a new task force, co-chaired by Deputy Supervisor Tom Garrity and Clinchy.
The task force’s mission is to keep an eye on NYSEG and the progress being made in system upgrades and to report back to the full Town Board.
“Garrity’s driving the train now,” said Morrissey.
Meanwhile, the SEEC, whose job it is to save the town money and protect the environment, will also gather facts it hopes to use to educate utility customers about “the basics,” said Beasdale.
SEEC member Chris Zaberto, who was also at the work session, said the group hopes to put together an “educational program” that it will present at the local library.
Zaberto offered to serve on the task force so that the SEEC can directly share information.
Morrissey, along with his counterpart in nearby North Salem, Warren Lucas, filed a formal complaint about the situation with the state Public Service Commission. They urged residents to do the same. They also met with the utility’s CEO, Carl Taylor, to complain about slow response times and lack of manpower.
“We have their attention now,” Morrissey said Thursday of utility and state officials, adding that it’s up to the town to keep that momentum going.