Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called for an investigation into Hudson Valley utilities as thousands of residents prepared for a second nor’easter while still without power from a storm the week before.
Cuomo said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday that he would order the state’s Public Service Commission to investigate the response of power companies to the nor’easter that hit the lower Hudson Valley and other parts of the state March 2. That investigation could lead to sanctions or fines, the governor said.
When Cuomo spoke Tuesday morning, he said 74,790 customers still had no power. Almost all of those customers live in Dutchess, Putnam, Sullivan and Westchester counties.
“These storms have now become the rule rather than the exception and they have to have the capacity to quickly restore power,” Cuomo said of utility companies. “You know, I joke that I’ve been through five 100-year storms in two years. This is the new normal, and they have to be ready for it. And frankly, I’m getting tired of having the same conversation with them.”
Cuomo’s comments came during a week of intense criticism for Consolidated Edison Inc. and New York State Electric & Gas Corp. from public officials. Westchester County Executive George Latimer described the utilities as unprepared, while U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey said the “continued outages are absolutely unacceptable.”
The nor’easter storm that hit the region early last Friday brought snow, rain and winds gusting up to 60 mph. It created the fifth worse outage in Con Edison’s history, the company said. By Sunday, Cuomo declared states of emergency in Westchester, Putnam, Sullivan and Dutchess counties. More than three-quarters of the 182,000 New Yorkers without power at the time Cuomo declared the emergency lived in the four Hudson Valley counties.
Initial outages for Con Edison reached about 140,000 in its service area of Westchester and New York City. About 9,000 people in Con Edison’s service area were still without power today, the company reported. The company said all service would be restored by Friday at 11 p.m.
Con Edison said it has almost 1,800 people involved in restoring power, including 500 mutual aid workers called in from Canada, Texas and Wisconsin.
“They are focused on doing the job in a way that is safe for themselves and the public,” the news release said.
NYSEG reported about 1,500 of its Westchester customers had no power Wednesday morning. The company initially faced outages of more than 134,000 statewide. In Westchester, NYSEG provides electricity to several northern towns and villages, including North Salem, Somers, Yorktown and Bedford.
“We recognize that our customers who remain without power are frustrated,” said Carl A. Taylor, president and CEO of NYSEG. “I can assure you we are doing everything possible to clean up the mess that this storm created.”
In a press conference Wednesday morning, Latimer noted that both utilities had brought the outages down significantly overnight. But he said his office would work with local and county emergency response officials to try to verify the outage totals.
“We trust these numbers, but we want to verify these numbers,’ he said.
State law requires utilities prepare and follow emergency restoration response plans. Failure to do so, as judged by the state Public Service Commission, can result in financial penalties to shareholders.
Cuomo last year called for an investigation into the response from Rochester utilities after a major wind storm knocked out power for more than a week in some places. The Public Service Commission found last fall that sanctions were warranted for both NYSEG and Rochester Gas & Electric, but have not reached a settlement.
The governor also called for an investigation into the overall response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, blaming utilities, with special attention given to the Long Island Power Authority, for the region’s slow recovery.
Public Service Commission Chairman John Rhodes said the PSC will be watching the restoration efforts closely, including following the latest nor’easter.
“This is a severe and prolonged outage,” Rhodes said on the conference call Tuesday. “There have been clear failures, and failures of communication between the utilities and the government and customers. And absolutely an intense review and investigation is warranted.”
With snowfall expected to reach up to more than a foot in some parts of the county, Latimer said in his Wednesday morning press conference that utilities will be held accountable by their customers.
“Forget government… Hudson Valley residents are watching very carefully what their utility companies are doing,” Latimer said. “And many times the elected officials, from the governor on down,respond to community outrage, and the communities are outraged.”