Lawmakers grill Con Ed president over summer power outages

BOROUGHWIDE — The electrical power outages that Brooklyn residents were forced to endure in the summer of 2019 will not soon be forgotten if a hearing the state legislature held on Tuesday is any indication of public sentiment.

Lawmakers grilled Con Edison President Timothy Cawley at a joint hearing held by the State Senate and State Assembly in lower Manhattan that focused on Con Edison’s preparedness as well as the utility’s oft-criticized response to the blackouts that impacted thousands of New Yorkers on several hot, humid summer days.

Another hot topic of discussion was whether New York State should consider bypassing Con Ed altogether and establishing a publicly-run utility, according to a person who attended the session.

State Sen. Kevin Parker, chairperson of the Energy Committee, said he went into the hearing with a lot of questions on his mind. “I appreciate Con Ed being open and making themselves available. For me, this hearing was about three things: 1) What happened, 2) Why did it happen and 3) What will we do going forward?” said Parker, a Democrat representing Flatbush, East Flatbush and Ditmas Park.

On July 21, Con Ed deliberately shut off power to 33,000 Brooklyn customers as the company grappled with increased demand for electricity during a heat wave. Residents from Flatbush to Bath Beach were left in the dark for more than five hours. The lengthy blackout also hit places like Bergen Beach, Mill Basin, Canarsie, Flatlands and Georgetown.

Residents of Bath Beach and Gravesend endured a second power outage on August 10 that lasted for approximately 90 minutes. “This was a short one, about an hour and a half,” Bath Beach resident Marie Sabatino told the Home Reporter. “The last time, it was five and a half hours. But it shouldn’t be happening at all. It’s very frustrating that our electricity keeps going out.”

Cawley told lawmakers at the hearing on Tuesday that Con Ed shut off the power to some customers on July 21 as an emergency stop-gap measure to avoid a large-scale blackout that would have affected many more people, Parker said.

Parker said he understood that explanation. “They said it was an emergency. I do recognize they turned off the power to 33,000 people to avoid a power outage that would have affected 130,000,” Parker told the Home Reporter in a phone interview after the hearing.

The second power outage on Aug. 10 was due to an unexpected equipment situation, Con Ed officials told the Home Reporter at the time.

But Parker said the hearing still left him unsatisfied. “We have been giving Con Ed, since Superstorm Sandy, millions of dollars. When there was trouble this summer, they folded like a wet napkin,” he said.

“It just can’t happen again,” he added.

Meanwhile, the New York State Public Service Commission, the body that oversees Con Ed, is investigating a major blackout that took place on the West Side of Manhattan on July 13 and has expanded that probe to include the Brooklyn power outages.

Cawley defended the actions of Con Ed.

Cawley testified that the Brooklyn power outage on July 21 was the result of a pre-emptive decision by Con Ed to prevent larger outages in the borough, according to Crain’s New York Business, which had a reporter at the hearing.

“The events in southeast Brooklyn and the West Side Manhattan happened because, despite our strategic, targeted investment, no system is 100 percent. These outages did not occur because of neglected infrastructure or a lack of maintenance or investment,” Crain’s New York Business quoted Cawley as saying.

Con Ed officials did not return messages from the Home Reporter.

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