Following a series of nor’easters that slammed the region in recent weeks and left thousands of homes in the dark, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to launch an investigation into the widespread and long-lasting power outages.
“Westchester County residents are fed up. They’re done. They’re at the breaking point, and I’m standing here with them,” Schumer said at a press conference in White Plains on April 4. “We are going to force our utilities to change.”
FERC is an independent agency within the Department of Energy that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil.
“We shouldn’t have had to do this, but we’re at the point now where the experts at FERC have to come in, independently assess the situation, give us solutions and then work with us to require that our utilities implement them,” Schumer said, adding that “FERC is going to have to step up to the plate.”
Schumer said FERC’s investigation into local utilities, including Con Edison, is necessary to uncover facts, assist in identifying problems and come up with permanent solutions to prevent these issues from happening in the future.
“We need them to look into this right away and come up with solutions right away so we can avoid this happening again,” Schumer said. “Who knows when there could be another terrible storm.”
New York was slammed by winter storm Riley on March 2, which left some areas of the state with more than 3 feet of snow and more than 323,000 New Yorkers without power. A second storm on March 7, winter storm Quinn, knocked out power for an additional 100,000 customers, Schumer said.
“Power outages occur too frequently and last too long in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, hurting our residents, hurting our economy and just being unfair as you want to go through life,” Schumer said.
One such family is Christine Roithmayr, who hosted the afternoon press conference in her home on Avondale Road. The Roithmayr family lost power for several days, forcing the family to check into a hotel.
“We have lost power over and over again, it’s the same story every time,” she said. “It’s not just an inconvenience, and it is a tremendous inconvenience. This is a safety issue.”
Roithmayr said that at one point, her family’s home was without power for two full weeks.
“You have to ask, what is wrong with our electricity companies,” Schumer said. “When you lose power once, that’s one thing, but when it happens over and over again, you say ‘Why aren’t you stepping up to the plate to correct it?’”
County Executive George Latimer, who was also present at the press conference, previously called for leadership at Con Edison and NYSEG to resign following the long-term outages. Schumer, however, said that he hopes to allow FERC and its investigation to handle the situation.
“We’ll see what happens after that,” Schumer said. “We’ll be watching the progress like a hawk.”
Schumer said FERC heeded his call to conduct a similar investigation in Orange County in 2011. That probe was spurred by prolonged outages that followed an October nor’easter that thrashed the region.
“They did a good job, and that’s why I’m asking them again,” he said, adding that “a good job means get to the bottom of it, don’t listen to the utilities, find out on their own what’s wrong, make suggestions and help us force the utilities to implement those suggestions.”
Schumer said his office has spoken with utility companies in recent weeks, though they were provided with “unsatisfactory answers.”
Though no timeline for the investigation was given, Schumer said he would ensure that FERC’s investigation would be conducted in a timely manner.
“They need our office for budget, and the need us for appointees,” he said. “Those are pretty good leverage points.”