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Con Ed grid guys grilled by City Council for ‘inadequate and laughable’ response to summer blackout

2019-09-06

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called Con Edison’s response to the summer’s power outages “inadequate and laughable” at a Tuesday hearing. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called Con Ed’s public response since the summer’s power outages “inadequate and laughable” at a Wednesday hearing.

The session marked the latest hatefest excoriating the utility since two huge blackouts hit Manhattan and Brooklyn in July.

“There has not really been much level of contrition,” Johnson (D-Manhattan) told Con Ed execs after they gave testimony. “I feel like there are throwaway lines.

“If I were you I would be saying, 'I am so effing sorry for what happened! This is embarrassing. This is terrible!’ ” Johnson continued. “I don’t hear that.”

The scathing remarks came after Con Ed Vice President David DeSanti insisted, “A number of metrics show we are the most reliable electric delivery company in the United States.”

He and fellow Veep Steven Parisi also gave quick recaps of the causes of the summer outages — a problem with protective relays, or “the brains of the system,” in the July 13 blackout in Manhattan, and a failure of feeder cables in Brooklyn. They said Con Ed has completed repairs to the grid and is finalizing plans for “significant upgrades” for southeast Brooklyn, where more than 50,000 customers went without power July 21.

After city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said 63% of customers affected in the Brooklyn outage were black, Con Ed officials dodged the issue.

“We do not track customer demographics,” DeSanti said. “We have to look purely at engineering.”

When Johnson pressed he issue, asking whether some neighborhoods have older equipment than others, DeSanti replied, “It’s hard to say.”

It was one of several moments in the hearing when the Con Ed execs were unable to answer Council members’ questions.

“If Con Edison is not up for the job, then we need to find someone else,” said Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Queens), echoing remarks from Gov. Cuomo in the summer.

It may not be an entirely hollow threat.

Energy expert Yury Dvorkin of NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering urged lawmakers to consider breaking up Con Ed’s monopoly on selling electricity to New Yorkers.

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Thousands of New Yorkers left in the dark after power outage hits Midtown, Upper West Side

“If we introduce competition so several organizations are going to manage the same assets, naturally the competition forces between these organizations will [make] everyone [strive] to improve it,” he said.

Dvorkin also took issue with Con Ed’s stated practice of refusing to collect demographic information about customers.

“Everyone is equal but the needs are not equal,” he said. “We have different holiday schedules, we have different religious schedules, we have different needs of communities with public schools, with everything.

“Learning the needs of the communities based on ethnicity, religions, age, income would help Con Edison to learn exactly what these customer groups expect from them as electricity deliverer monopolist.”

Wednesday’s hearing came after the state Legislature held a similar session the day before. Con Ed President Tim Cawley attended the first event, but was a no-show at the Council.

“Tim Cawley should be here today,” Johnson fumed. “I don’t know why he’s not here.”