ConEd Faces Expanded Probe After Heat Wave Forces Power Shutdown

By Will Wade and Brian Eckhouse | July 22, 2019

Consolidated Edison Inc. said it would be ready for the heat wave. It wasn’t, and instead was forced to shut off power to prevent damage to its equipment.

In all, at least 53,000 customers lost electricity Sunday as a heat wave baked the East Coast, leading some circuits to fail and overloading power lines as temperatures in New York City reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) and demand surged to a record.

The company had said Friday that it was prepared for the heat, and that the system had enough capacity to power air conditioners across its service area. But a swath of Brooklyn lost power on Sunday as the utility sought to keep some sections of its network from becoming overloaded. It was ConEd’s second major outage in eight days and drew fire from Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We’re disappointed,” Michael Clendenin, a ConEd spokesman, said by phone Monday. “You can’t predict the equipment sometimes.”

Demand Sunday reached a weekend record of 12,063 megawatts at 6 p.m., slightly higher than the company had predicted but still below the system’s maximum capacity of 13,200 megawatts, according to Clendenin.

Shares of New York-based ConEd fell 0.8% to $86.54 by 10:41 a.m. in New York.

Temperatures Spike

As temperatures spiked, circuits in parts of Brooklyn failed. That meant the company had to shift some load onto overhead lines that were already delivering a lot of power to sweltering customers. To avoid exceeding those lines’ capacity and potentially damaging equipment, ConEd switched off electricity starting Sunday evening.

ConEd has “been giving us consistently inconsistent information,” de Blasio said at a press conference on Monday. “This was a situation we all saw coming and don’t have any good answers yet as to why this happened and why it was not prevented.”

Cuomo’s office said it directed the State Department of Public Service to expand its investigation into ConEd outages, which was opened after a failure on July 13 left 72,000 customers on Manhattan’s West Side without power.

“We have been through this situation with ConEd time and again, and they should have been better prepared,” Cuomo said in a statement on Sunday. “This was not a natural disaster; there is no excuse for what has happened in Brooklyn.”

ConEd restored power to more than 30,000 customers overnight, the company said Monday in a statement. Those who still don’t have electricity should have service restored by the afternoon, according to the utility.

Relief Expected

The affected Brooklyn neighborhoods in Sunday’s outage include Canarsie, Flatlands, Mill Basin, Old Mill Basin, Bergen Beach and Georgetown. The company reported on its website that 17,897 customers were without power across its service area as of 9:24 a.m. local time Monday.

Sunday’s outage came as relief is expected from dangerous heat baking a swath of the U.S. Lower temperatures are forecast after heat advisories and excessive heat warnings stretched from Oklahoma to Ohio and along the East Coast from Maine to South Carolina.

ConEd had on Sunday asked customers in southeast Brooklyn and parts of Queens, as well as some Bronx neighborhoods, to conserve energy while crews work to repair equipment.

Separately on Long Island, Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. reported Sunday night that power had been restored to most of the more than 27,000 customers affected by equipment failures.

–With assistance from Stephen Stapczynski.

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