Another Storm, Same Frustrations as Impatience With Utilities Mounts

Elected officials are calling for an independent assessment of the electric delivery operations of New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) following unexpected thunderstorms last Tuesday that caused thousands to lose power for several days in northern Westchester.

County legislators Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers) and Kitley Covill (D-Katonah) sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo last Thursday urging him to endorse a “bottom-up” evaluation of NYSEG’s operations. They are requesting the assessment be conducted by a consultant hired by the county but paid for by NYSEG.

The pair also criticized the state Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, for failing to order NYSEG to fully incorporate the findings of a 2013 Moreland Commission report and to mandate improvements in storm preparation and response.

Kaplowitz said that the frustration and anger was palpable among his constituents that were left without power from the latest event. He said NYSEG is incapable of preparing for storms and springing into action once one hits. An independent assessment would determine what technology and resiliency solutions can be enhanced in the region, he said.

“We just don’t trust NYSEG. We don’t trust the Public Service Commission and it’s time to take an independent review,” Kaplowitz said. “This is just not acceptable. It continues to be the same problem.”

The extended power outages are just the latest in a series of problems following back-to-back nor’easters that impacted the region in March leaving tens of thousands of residents without power for up to two weeks. Officials criticized the utilities for poor communication and have sought efforts to prevent a similar situation from recurring.

County Executive George Latimer agreed that after failed responses from the utilities an independent study of the resiliency of the electrical system is prudent.

“We have no confidence in the way mutual aid has been allocated, and the amount of staff, manpower and equipment is transparent to those of us in local government that have to meet our services hand and glove with the utility services,” Latimer said. “I think there are people that work very hard for the utilities but clearly the bottom line is when you go four, five, six days without restoration we have some significant problems.”

NYSEG informed county officials on Thursday that 7,798 customers were without power. Latimer said utility representatives asserted 90 percent of customers would have power restored by last Friday night, with the remaining back on line by Saturday evening

As of Sunday afternoon, NYSEG reported 71 customers were still without power.

Con Edison reported Thursday that 239 customers remained in the dark and would be restored later that day. A majority of Con Edison’s customer base had power back Tuesday evening, Latimer said.

Kaplowitz said Department of Public Works crews are prepared to handle the storm damage. However, they are restricted in their activities when live wires are down, having to wait until mutual aid arrives, often traveling from distant locations including Canada. Kaplowitz again stressed the need for crews from outside the region to be flown to Westchester County Airport ready to use extra equipment provided by the local utilities to expedite restoration.

“The mutual aid is a joke,” he said. “A representative from NYSEG told me (on Thursday) they just crossed the border of Canada and they’re on their way down. Every day they’re still driving is a day that people are not restored. The utilities are not doing enough.”