As more than 1 million homes and businesses across the Northeast head into a fifth day without electricity, utilities are bringing in hundreds of additional field workers to help restore power in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias.
Consolidated Edison Inc. has more than 1,650 employees on the job and is getting help from 819 mutual aid and contract workers from as far as away as Texas, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin. Another 500 workers are expected to arrive this weekend.Jersey Central Power & Light has more than 8,000 at work.
Connecticut had the largest outage as of Friday afternoon, with more than 440,000 customers still in the dark. In New York, 390,000 were without power, followed by 260,000 in New Jersey. For some in New Jersey and Connecticut, electricity won’t be restored until Tuesday, a full week after Isaias battered the region, tearing mature trees from the ground and downing utility poles.
The blackouts have added a new layer of misery for communities already coping with a pandemic that’s forced a multitude of people to work from home —now, without electricity. They also suggest that many utilities underestimated Isaias’s impact on customers, despite weather forecasts calling for intense winds and storm-related damage.
Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority Chairman Marissa Gillett blastedEversource for failing to adequately prepare given projections by the state forecaster about the storm’s severity. Gillett’s own power has been down since Tuesday.
“They’ll get their day in court,” she said of Eversource. “They deserve to be held accountable.” She’s considering civil penalties, disallowing storm recovery costs, and longer term punishments, similar to what PG&E Corp. went through over wildfires.
Eversource spokesman Frank Poirot said the company’s response to the storm has been hampered by the extent of the damage. More than 1,100 outside workers are helping with restoration and will continue to line up crews “as necessary,” he said. The company is replacing or rehanging 137 miles of line, removing almost 3,500 trees and substituting 812 poles.
ConEd maintains that Isaias was more damaging to the electric grid than the company had anticipated. Other utilities, including New Jersey’s Public Service Enterprise Group, said the storm was as bad as expected and that they were adequately prepared. YetPSEG on Friday still had50,000 customers in need of electricity and doesn’t expect to restore all of them until Monday. Eversource said some of their customers might not be restored until Tuesday.
The delays have drawn fierce criticism from local politicians, prompting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont to order investigations of utilities’ response to the storm.
“The response from Con Edison to Tropical Storm Isaias has been nothing short of abysmal,” said Jeff Dinowitz, a New York State Assemblyman who represents neighborhoods in the Northwest Bronx that have been hit hard by outages. He said ConEd has failed to invest enough in making its infrastructure strong enough to endure storms.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, ConEd brought in 500 repair crews from far flung utilities, expecting that would be enough to help restore power to city residents, said utility President Tim Cawley. But once Isaias struck, it became clear to utility managers that more workers were needed to get to the 300,000 customers who lost power in New York City and Westchester County.
The storm initially caused more than 2 million outages in New York and surrounding areas as it raked up the coast from North Carolina and up the Hudson River Valley. It was the largest storm-related outage in ConEd history after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“In some cases we’re rebuilding infrastructure,” Cawley said, referring to poles, wires and even damaged transformers. “This is very labor intensive. We recognize the hardship of not having electricity even for a short time.” He also noted that over 500 roads were closed, limiting crews’ ability to get where they needed to be.
Jersey Central Power & Light cited similar barriers to restoring service, with spokesman Cliff Cole calling the storm damage “Sandy level.” The utility estimated Friday that some customers will be in the dark until Tuesday.
New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso said he’s confident it will be sooner.
“I have confidence we’ll be at 100% on Monday,” Fiordaliso said in an interview. He acknowledged that the storm’s gusts were unexpectedly strong, defying well-laid preparations by local utilities.
Still, “a week without power is not acceptable,” he said. “We’ll review their performance. We’ll be looking at whether they followed the protocols we put in place after Sandy.”
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