Con Ed limited in ability to restore boro’s power

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Queens residents regained their power as early as 5:17 a.m. Friday morning in Long Island City and as late as 6 p.m. Friday in Jamaica, but a Con Edison spokesman assured all energy recipients that the utility was not playing favorites.

Power companies were just as “powerless” as anybody else, said Con Edison spokesman Joe Petta. “Even the Con Ed building didn’t regain power until Friday evening.”

Petta said power could not be restored to an area if the power plant that transmits power to that area had not been turned on and generated a certain amount of its own power.

Con Edison also must abide by the rules of the New York Independent System Operator, a not-for-profit corporation in Albany that controls the state’s energy distribution to even small sections of the city.

This left Con Ed, the local utility for the city, with only limited discretion to direct power to specific areas.

“The areas that were restored were largely determined by where and when the power became available. We have to wait until there is power,” Petta said. “In many cases, we did not have a choice about which areas would receive power first.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday the ISO allowed power to return to New York City when it did because he had threatened to sue the power distributor.

When Con Ed did have a choice about where to direct power, Petta said the utility gave first priority to areas with critical facilities like hospitals and firehouses. He said it was then a matter of where the Con Ed engineers thought the available power would be best used. If, for example, the amount of power available was the same as the amount of power required in a certain area of the borough, engineers might choose to direct the power there.

They based their decisions on recommendations from the Office of Emergency Management and other city agencies. OEM relied on its electrical disruption plan to assist in the blackout.

Queens neighborhoods regained power sporadically throughout the day Friday. Rego Park, the Rockaways and Flushing had electricity in their areas by mid-morning, and Ridgewood and Maspeth by mid-afternoon. Richmond Hill did not receive power until almost 4 p.m., but the last area left in the dark was southeast Queens, where some residents did not regain power until 6 p.m.

As to why some areas did not receive power until late Friday, Petta said some neighborhoods were simply not served by generators that were ready to turn back on the electricity. Power generators have to generate a certain amount of power internally before Con Edison can connect the plants to other power sources in its jurisdiction.

“There are thousands of steps in the process. I think the only thing people really understand is that you flip the switch and the power goes on. And then people realize there’s a thing called electricity,” Petta said.

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said another component in the process is how power is transmitted rather than just how much is generated. Four of the five Queens power plants are concentrated in his district and generate much of the power for the entire city.

He said the worst power loss in the nation’s history should be “a wake-up call that we need to get better transmitters at power plants, and to improve the transmitters we have.

“Part of the problem is that the power generation systems are private companies, but the transmission system is still regulated by the government, so there’s not as much of a desire to enhance the transmission grid,” Gianaris said. “Very little focus and attention has been given to enhancing the transmission grid. More transmission lines are needed, and we need to modernize.”

The blackout has called attention to Gianaris’ energy security bill recently passed by the state Legislature. The measure would give New York state oversight over power generating and transmission facilities.

Gianaris is calling on Gov. George Pataki to sign his anti-terror bill, especially in light of the chaos that followed the blackout.

“It wouldn’t take too smart of a terrorist to figure out that if he was able to replicate [the power outage] purposefully, he could wreak havoc,” Gianaris said.

State oversight of power facilities would ensure that these facilities beef up their security as a protection against terrorist plots and other disasters.

For now, Con Edison is confident the crisis has passed. Bloomberg has decided not to sue to recover damages from the blackout, he told the New York Post, and Petta said the utility has no reason to expect any residual problems.

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