As Power Returns to Queens, Some 16,000 Lose Electricity in Staten Island
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The day power was fully restored to the last of the 25,000 customers in northwest Queens who had gone 10 days with no electricity, an estimated 16,000 on Staten Island lost power.
Mayor Bloomberg, who had been criticized last week for not coming to Queens until several days into the crisis, rushed to Staten Island within hours of the first outages.
“Sure, everybody’s a little bit more sensitive after last week,” the mayor said. Power there failed after above-ground wires were downed. In the affected parts of Queens, the power supply was underground and took longer to repair.
As of about 10 p.m. yesterday, all customers had regained electricity on Staten Island, a Con Ed spokeswoman, Elizabeth Clark, said.
Con Ed, also accused of poorly updating the community when the Queens blackout struck, started briefing the borough’s elected officials almost immediately after nine Staten Island neighborhoods lost power.
Unlike his Queens counterparts, a City Council member who represents Staten Island, James Oddo, commended the utility for its candor this time.
“They reached out to me immediately,” he said.
With weekend temperatures forecast to peak in the 90s, the mayor also urged New Yorkers to conserve energy to help prevent future energy problems.
Meanwhile, the state agency that regulates the region’s beleaguered electricity company, launched a wide-ranging investigation yesterday into the outages that plunged much of northwest Queens into darkness for 10 days.
Local politicians, energy experts, and incensed local residents are questioning why the New York Public Service Commission hadn’t taken more steps before the Queens crisis to encourage Con Edison to more quickly bolster an antiquated system.
“The Public Service Commission does not have a reputation of being very proactive,” a former chairman of the state Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, Jerry Kremer, said. “They carry a big stick, but the question is, how often do they use it. I don’t get the impression they use it very much,” he added.
The service commission says infrastructure upgrade needs do play a role in setting rates, noting that the utility planned to spend more than $3 billion over the next three years.
“It’s up to the company to manage the system,” a spokesman for the commission, David Flanagan, said yesterday. “We do not manage the day-to-day operations of the company.”
Mr. Flanagan promised a thorough investigation of the outages.
“We’re going to gather all the facts and circumstances surrounding these outages and we will act accordingly,” he said.
“Accordingly” might have to mean that rates will need to increase to pay for widespread upgrades, a member of the mayor’s energy task force, Ashok Gupta, said.
But even recently blacked-out municipalities can have short memories when rate hikes are proposed to help fund infrastructure improvements, a former head of the transmission grid in the Midwest and now a Long Island University professor, Matthew Cordaro, said.
“It’s the nature of the business when the sun shines and the incident is far behind you that people don’t see the urgency — especially when it comes to cost,” he said.
While there is no official indication that rates are on the rise, the prospect of a hike didn’t sit well with people in Astoria still reeling from the memory of going without power for more than 200 hours starting July 17.
“Improvements should have happened a long time ago,” a local computer engineer, Joey Scaffa, said as he enjoyed the area’s electrical renaissance yesterday afternoon. “Why should we be living like cavemen when we’re paying the rates we are already?”
Laura Dous, who said she lost about $300 worth of food that spoiled during the outages, also said she believes rates are high enough. She criticized the infrastructure in northwest Queens and labeled the idea that rates might have to increase “disgusting.”
Local politicians concurred.
“The company is doing well financially. The issue is, have they prioritized correctly and focused enough on infrastructure improvements? And are they dedicating those resources to the right locations?” an Assemblyman who represents the area, Michael Gianaris, said.
Those questions will be the subject of Assembly hearings scheduled for next week, he said.
Back on Staten Island, the mayor was asked what he was thinking yesterday afternoon when he first heard that power had failed in parts of another borough.
“I said, ‘What now?'” Mr. Bloomberg said with a chuckle. “Or something like that.”