Manhattan skyline at night (281954)
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Blackouts exacerbate heatwave

By ELLIS LEWIS

Special to the AmNews

As the heat continues to rise in NYC the city has also been experiencing a series of blackouts. The first in the series took place in midtown just a few weeks ago. In the beginning, it seemed like a mere mishap. However, over the past week, there have been several reported outages in not just Manhattan but also Southern Brooklyn. Thus it is becoming clear that this is not just an issue specific to one area but instead the entire city.

There have been several reports condemning Con Edison for the current mishap and Con Edison has defined the situation as them not being “prepared.” Con Edison had also released a press release July 21 stating the following: “Con Edison is asking customers in certain neighborhoods in Southeast Brooklyn to conserve energy while company crews work to repair equipment problems. Con Edison has also reduced voltage by 8 percent in those areas as a precaution to protect equipment and maintain service as repairs are made. The affected area serves approximately 132,000 customers and includes Flatbush, Prospect Park Lefferts Gardens, Prospect Heights, Canarsie, Flatlands, Old Mill Basin, Bergen Beach and Georgetown.”

In response to this press release, there have been a series of questions being raised by New York City Public Advocate Jurmaane D. Williams who is calling for action alongside accountability from Con Edison. Here are some of the major questions raised by Williams: “When these decisions are made, what considerations or aid are offered to those impacted? Is there any pre-emptive outreach to senior housing or other communities with low mobilization to mitigate the increased risk these communities face in a blackout during a heatwave? Does your organization offer any outreach or aid to assist those who are dependent on electric medical equipment such as breathing machines? Also, this question in relation to Con Edison employees: I understand Con Edison dispatched a team of 4,000 electric operations personnel this past weekend in anticipation of issues related to the heatwave. Is Con Edison utilizing employees or outside contractors to provide these support services?”

There have also been several statements from city council members including Justin Brannan of district 43 and Mark Treyger of district 47. Both councilmembers have called for an investigation into the series of blackouts stating the following in a press release: “This is completely unacceptable that another service outage has occurred in New York City leaving Con Edison customers without power, impacting vulnerable residents in Gravesend, Bath Beach, some of Coney Island, the Block Institute, which serves children and adults with disabilities, and small businesses in the neighborhoods. Con Edison was neglectful to inform their customers, as we were only made aware of the outage by the NYC Office of Emergency Management around 11 a.m. this morning. We had no idea of the boundaries of the impact or what efforts were underway to restore power by Con Edison. The impacted area serves a population of 5,319.

“Con Edison is proving to be an unreliable utility company as a blackout in service happened only four days prior in Manhattan and another recently in Staten Island. Frequently, service outages have occurred in Gravesend, Bath Beach and Dyker Heights as well, and our offices have documented and met with Con Edison in the past, but they continue to happen.”

In addition, we have also received an official statement from State Senator Kevin Parker of Brooklyn. Parker made the following statement: “I am requesting

that the Public Service Commission immediately conduct a thorough investigation into the causes of these recent blackouts. The power outages that affected Brooklyn and other parts of New York City is unacceptable especially being the first heatwave of the year. Con Edison must be held accountable to ratepayers so that failures of this proportion costs the utility more financially, than it would have if ConED invested more in preventative measures like improvements in their Relay Protection Systems—one of the causes of the blackout in Midtown, and grid reliability and resilience upgrades, to thwart future blackouts.”

We also conducted an over-the-phone interview with Senator Parker in relation to this issue. The subject of why certain areas had received cuts was discussed and, according to Parker, Con Edison told him that the reason was that these areas were close facilites owned by Con Edison. Thus the cuts were “to make repairs” and not to “cause a larger disruption within the system.” Parker also discussed his disappointment due to “not how it was handled but that they weren’t even prepared.”

Parker also stated that there have been, “Various times where the grid system was less than adequate. We had hoped they would have learned the lesson taught by Superstorm Sandy and would provide resiliency and reliability to their service.” Finally, Parker ended our conversation with the following quote in relation to these outages being of malicious intent: “Never assume malice when incompetence will do.”