ALBANY, N.Y. – In a hearing held earlier this month in Albany, elected officials demanded that Con Edison and NYSEG upgrade their aging infrastructures in the wake of last month’s snowstorms that caused regionwide blackouts, leaving some residents without power for nearly a week.
Sen. Terrence Murphy, chairman of the State Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, led the hearing to examine how prepared utility companies were for the storms and to look at what steps could be taken to ensure better preparedness.
The hearing was held March 27 in the Legislative Office Building in Albany after being postponed from March 22 in Somers. The public was invited to attend but was not allowed to comment during the hearing.
“We have these hundred-year storms that are happening every year,” Murphy said. “And the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. And that’s why we’re all here. We don’t want to do this anymore.”
Murphy urged the utility companies and the Public Service Commission to communicate with one another to develop a plan to not only better deal with storms and their aftereffects, but to create a strong infrastructure that would be better able to withstand natural disasters.
“We have some of the highest utility rates in the United States of America,” he said. “Harden it up for us. It’s our money that we’re paying. Bring it back home.”
Testifying before the committee, Somers Supervisor Rick Morrissey, whose town is served by NYSEG, outlined some of the issues residents faced during the storms.
“Over the past year, we have witnessed clear deficiency in services, which the town believes is directly related to NYSEG’s lack of system maintenance, cuts in staff and failure to provide adequate communication to its customers,” he said. “I’m here today to ensure that NYSEG is held accountable, and that we all understand changes are necessary to ensure these situations do not happen in the future.”
He asked that NYSEG be held responsible for the reimbursements for damages, as well as crediting customer accounts for lack of service. He called on NYSEG to harden and upgrade its infrastructure, which he characterized as “aging.”
Carl Taylor, the CEO of NYSEG., detailed the efforts of his crews to restore power over the course of the two storms, noting that together, they brought down more than 3,000 power lines and damaged more than 400 utility poles.
Taylor said approximately 83 percent of customers in the NYSEG’s Brewster division, which serves Putnam, Westchester and Dutchess counties, were left without power. He said that crews worked 17-hour shifts until power was restored.
“This was an extraordinary effort by a large team of men and women in an extraordinary event,” he said.
John McAvoy, chairman and CEO of Con Edison, said Westchester accounted for 70 percent of his company’s outages. Both winter storms, Riley and Quinn, caused 200,000 power outages and 700 road closures, he said, surpassed only by Superstorm Sandy in his company’s history.
About a week before the storm, McAvoy said, Con Edison began mobilizing crews and alerting customers to a storm that would bring sustained winds at 35 mph and gusts up to 50 mph. What Westchester got, he said, was sustained winds at 50 mph and gusts at 70 mph, along with 2.5 inches of rain and heavy, wet snow.
“Despite all of these pre-storm preparations and weather forecasting, the storm’s impact, intensity and duration were much greater than expected,” McAvoy said.
He also said software defects and modeling problems resulted in customers receiving inaccurate information regarding their restoration times.
North Salem Supervisor Warren Lucas said, during the storms, he saw situations in which one felled tree took out power to thousands of homes, which highlights a problem with infrastructure.
“We need to require enhancements that will allow the network not to lose power every time a tree comes down,” Lucas said. “We need a 21st century network.”
He called for NYSEG to increase local manpower working out of the Brewster office rather than rely on outside contractors when more extensive line repair is needed.