New York City’s blackout: What New York regulators may do to Con Edison – The Journal News | LoHud.com

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A musician at Carnegie Hall describes what happened when the power in the hall went out due to the widespread outage Saturday night. Seth Harrison, sharriso@lohud.com

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped up his criticism of Con Edison on Monday after a blackout Saturday night in midtown Manhattan left the city in temporary disarray.

Cuomo said state regulators will independently investigate Con Ed’s handling of the outage, which lasted about five hours and ended shortly before midnight.

And Cuomo didn’t shy away from the potential of kicking Con Ed out of New York if the findings show gross negligence.

Con Ed, Cuomo said, has “an attitude of the too-big-to-fail banks” but suggested the company could be replaced if problems continue.

“This is a franchise, this is a license,” Cuomo said during an interview on WNYC, a public-radio station in New York City.

“This is not a God-given right, and if they don’t perform well, they can be replaced.”

What happens next?

Con Ed said about 72,000 customers lost power Saturday night after a transformer blew, causing 30 blocks from Times Square to the Upper West Side to go dark starting at 6:47 p.m. 

Con Ed vowed to conduct “a diligent and vigorous investigation to determine the root cause of the incident.”

Late Monday, Con Ed said its inspection of equipment and preliminary review of system data showed the outage was the result of a relay protection system at the West 65th Street substation “did not operate as designed.”

“That system detects electrical faults and directs circuit breakers to isolate and de-energize those faults,” the company said in a statement.

“The relay protection system is designed with redundancies to provide high levels of reliability. In this case, primary and backup relay systems did not isolate a faulted 13,000-volt distribution cable at West 64th Street and West End Avenue.”

Cuomo said Monday morning that the largest utility company in the nation needs to do a better job.

Cuomo called the blackout a “pure operation failure” on the company’s part and said the hours-long blackout was a public safety risk that could have plunged the city into chaos. 

“We were lucky that no one died,” Cuomo said. “As governor of New York, I don’t want to rely on luck.”

In response to Cuomo’s comments, Con Ed said in a statement, “New York’s grid is the most reliable in the country, and we are focused on finding the root cause of Saturday’s outage.”

Ongoing issues with Con Ed

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Saturday’s blackout isn’t the first incident involving Con Edison’s 62 power stations in the city.

In December, a voltage detector at a Queens substation malfunctioned, causing the night skies around New York City to turn blue.

The Democratic governor has been critical of the company in the past over reports of poor service, and in this case, he ordered the Public Service Commission to do an independent investigation.

The company provides 3.4 million New Yorkers with electricity and natural-gas service to 1.1 million customers throughout Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx as well as Westchester County.

John McAvoy, the company’s chairman, said Saturday night with Cuomo at his side that Con Ed quickly determined the reason for the outage.

“It changed over time,” he said. “Everybody didn’t all lose power at 6:47 p.m. because some items became overloaded and we actually had to take action to shut off power to other customers to prevent them from equipment damage. But over that period of time we knew exactly which customers were effected.” 

He said he didn’t think the system was at further risk in the coming days.

“So we have nothing to indicate that,” he said. “That being said, we have not done the root cause analysis that will identify exactly what caused this outage so you can’t exclude that until you actually know what the conditions were that caused this.”

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Criticism of de Blasio

Cuomo arrived at the scene Saturday night while New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was in Iowa campaigning for president.

De Blasio made it back to the city on Sunday, but the mayor drew heavy criticism for being absent during the blackout.

On Monday, the New York Post called for Cuomo to take steps to remove de Blasio from office. It said the city’s charter and the state Constitution allows the governor to suspend the mayor for 30 days and then can take actions to ultimately remove him.

But Cuomo, who has sparred with de Blasio for years, said Monday he would not do so.

“I’m not going to exercise my legal authority to move against the mayor,” Cuomo said on WAMC, a public-radio station in Albany.

For his part, de Blasio told reporters Sunday that he got back to the city as quickly as he could and was in constant contact with leaders on the ground.

“When I heard about the incident, I was waiting to understand exactly what was going on so we could make that decision. Also, it’s, unfortunately, on a Saturday evening,” he said.

“It’s a very long trip back, so I wasn’t going to be able to be here immediately under any circumstance. The most important thing was to get a clear picture – what was going on, was it going to be immediately resolved or not. Once it was clear it was not going to be immediately resolved, I started back immediately.” 

While Cuomo said he was “not prepared” to remove de Blasio from office, he did say he believes it is important for a chief executive such as a mayor to respond when an incident takes place.

“There are more day-to-day operational issues for a chief executive where you are needed on site,” Cuomo said.

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