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New report rips Con Ed on blackout

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The PSC slammed Con Ed in its 185-page report, calling the utility's response to the outage "unacceptable" and criticized the company's communication with the public and elected officials.Elected officials said the report accurately depicted their negative views of Con Ed's handling of the outage."My constituents lived in primitive, extremely uncomfortable and often dangerous conditions for up to 10 days," U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) said. "I continue to be astounded that Con Ed appeared to have little or no curiosity about how many people were without power during that time."In its report, the PSC found that Con Ed failed to comprehend the magnitude of the outage, describing the utility's overall performance as "poor and unreasonable." The commission wrote that the company's failure to oversee, maintain and operate its own electrical system helped to exacerbate the outage. The PSC was also critical of the utility's communication with the public and elected officials during the outage and said an estimated 174,000 people, or 65,000 metered customers, lost power or experienced low voltage in western Queens between July 17 and July 26. Con Ed originally reported 25,000 metered customers lost service during the blackout, which caused residents and elected officials to accuse the utility of playing down the number of people affected by the outage."The company needs to modify a number of its procedures, especially with regard to understanding how problems with its primary, and ultimately secondary, systems affect consumers and how it should communicate with consumers, public officials and consumer organizations more effectively," the report read.In its report, the PSC estimated the total costs spent in connection with the blackout at $120 million. The commission recommended that the utility's 2006 revenues be cut by $9.3 million less for failing to meet reliability and performance targets. A Con Ed statement said the utility was reviewing the PSC's findings and recommendations, but continued to support its decision to keep power on in the network during the blackout while attempting to restore service to customers rather than shut down the entire western Queens electrical system. Con Ed released its own report Oct. 12 that blamed the outage on short-circuited cables, a substation circuit breaker malfunction and a surge as utility workers tried to restore power. The utility maintained the blackout was beyond its control.Elected officials estimated local businesses suffered millions of dollars in lost revenue and product. Several closed permanently after the outage, including Planet Wings and Cold Stone Creamery on 31st Street in Astoria. But Con Ed decided to reimburse each business for only $7,000 in damages. State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said he would soon release a report based on findings of a task force he created to study the outage."Dramatic changes are needed if we are to avoid a repeat of this debacle next summer," he said.In its report, the PSC recommended taking action to prevent similar incidents in the future and to "consider initiating a proceeding to consider the prudence of the company's actions or inactions during the Long Island City network event." Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended Con Ed Chairman Kevin Burke after the release of the report last week and argued that fining the utility for the blackout would result in higher electric bills for customers. But few western Queens elected officials were in agreement with him."From crime to schools, the mayor's tenure has been about accountability and results," Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said. "He needs to hold the monopoly responsible for providing our power to the same standards."

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