Brooklyn Boro

State probe into Con Ed doesn’t go far enough for southern Brooklyn rep

August 13, 2019 Kelly Mena
Con Edison work to restore power after Sunday night's outages. Photo courtesy of Con Edison via Facebook
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The state commission investigating Con Edison for massive blackouts in Brooklyn and Manhattan responded on Monday to a request from 22 City Council members to study the feasibility of revoking the utility company’s monopoly — and the lawmaker leading the charge is less than thrilled with the response.

The Public Service Commission, the state’s regulatory arm for public utilities, said in its letter that its investigation will include “analyzing the root causes of the outages, how Con Edison communicates with its customers, before and during times when de-energization may be required to prevent larger scale outages, and whether any underlying issues or practices had a negative impact on Con Edison’s preparation and response to the recent outage events.”

Signed by commission CEO and Chairperson John Rhodes, the letter does not address the request to consider less traditional solutions such as microgrids, or even a publicly run system, as the 22 city lawmakers demanded.

“Con Edison and the other New York investor-owned utilities are held to the highest standard possible regarding their provision, maintenance, and restoration of service each and every day,” Rhodes wrote.

Councilmember Mark Treyger, who led the push for the investigation, fumed that the limited scope of the commission’s examination does little to address ongoing outages, such as those in the southern Brooklyn neighborhoods he represents.

“We are left without a satisfactory commitment that the inquiry will specifically find out why Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods were targeted for preemptive service shutoffs without sufficient notification to its customers. We continue to have power outages, most recently this past weekend in Bath Beach and Gravesend, with no explanation from Con Edison,” Treyger told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Treyger is the primary signatory on the letter sent July 30 to the Public Service Commission. Twenty-one other councilmembers, representing communities in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx, also signed on.

Without studying alternatives to Con Edison that could solve the ongoing disruptions, the commission must push the utility company on its plans to provide better services to communities like Treyger’s, the councilmember said.

“I am renewing my call for the PSC to hold the leadership at Con Edison accountable and find out why the neighborhoods of Bath Beach and Gravesend have outages occurring so frequently, and what they plan to do to prevent future power outages,” Treyger told the Eagle in a statement.

James Denn, a spokesperson for the commission, said that southern Brooklyn is being investigated as part of the larger probe but wouldn’t say if the smaller, ongoing outages in Brooklyn were being looked at.

“Governor Cuomo directed a comprehensive, independent investigation into the recent outages in New York City, which includes Southern Brooklyn, and DPS immediately began that investigation. Once complete, we will take any justified steps to punish and remedy Con Ed’s failure,” said Denn in a statement to the Eagle.

The ongoing battle to have all of Con Edison’s power issues studied comes following a series of public calls by local and state officials to take a deeper look into the massive Brooklyn blackout  and West Manhattan power outage including state hearings, legislation and a proposal for government-run power delivery.

Early in August, State Sen. Kevin Parker, who serves as the senate’s committee chair on energy told the Brooklyn Eagle he is expecting to convene a hearing alongside other state energy legislators this fall.

Parker, a Democrat, represents the neighborhoods of Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Ditmas Park, Kensington, Windsor Terrace and Park Slope — all affected by the massive Brooklyn outage.

Meanwhile, Councilmember Alan Maisel, who represents southeast Brooklyn communities also affected by the outage, is drafting legislation aimed at protecting seniors and disabled adults during blackouts. Two assisted senior centers in his district lost power late last month due to a lack of generators, leaving dozens of residents with health and developmental disabilities at risk.

Maisel’s measure would require any facility that is a residence for seniors and vulnerable populations to have generators or other backup power in the case of a power outage. A spokesperson for Maisel’s office said the legislation is still being drafted.

“We want to get to the bottom of all of this … we want to know what is going on. We had no power for almost four days and hundreds of customers were pushed out of service,” Parker told the Eagle. “We want to understand the problems they are having when it comes to resiliency and preparing for these problems.”

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