Friday, September 02, 2011

power struggles in westchester -editorial westchester business journal

Power struggles in Westchester
Editorial Staff | Sep 02, 2011 | Comments 0

A number of county business people and politicians are feeling powerless in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene. And many are angry about being left in the dark.

“Westchester ratepayers are treated like second-class citizens,” wrote Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner in an email.

He was referring to Con Edison customers who lost electricity following the storm that soaked the county.

“After every storm, Westchester customers wait much longer to have power restored than our New York City neighbors. Every ratepayer should be treated the same.”

Feiner, who’s not prone to hold his tongue in matters concerning his town, said he understands Con Ed cannot restore all the outages immediately, but suggests the utility “rotate” its service to “sometimes do Westchester first and parts of New York City second, or just spread it around.”

Following his email missives – cc’d to the Public Service Commission – and a Sunday appearance on News 12, Feiner said he noted some improvements.

“They (Con Ed) made a lot of progress. We had 6,000 people out Sunday and this morning (Aug. 30) it was down to 630. Obviously, now, I think Con Ed is trying hard. We still have major outages but they’re definitely making an effort in giving Greenburgh much more priority than it seemed like they were a couple days ago. I don’t want to say my yelling and screaming helped.

“It might have.”

Still, he cites a continuous power struggle.

“I’ve been through a lot of different storms and it’s taken four or five days to get service. …I don’t think it’s fair. New York City was always treated better than Westchester.”

For its part, Con Ed says it follows a priority system and services the most populated areas first.

“We want to focus on the repairs that will restore the most people the quickest,” Con Ed spokesman Michael S. Clendenin explained to us. “In other words, you could have a power line down that affects two houses or you might have one down that affects 500. You want to restore the 500 first.”

That’s logical, but the Feiners of our county are charged with minding our business.

“I totally understand the New York City versus Westchester thing,” Clendenin said. “Remember, we had about 180,000 (outages) in New York City and Westchester. Westchester had half of the total outages. So the storm, by and large, hit Westchester harder or as hard as the entire city, all five boroughs of New York City.”

That’s little comfort to a soggy county where some businesses and homeowners are still recovering from that last nasty storm back in March. And the lack of power this time around quickly dampened hopes for a speedy cleanup and recovery. But while Con Ed may be a major player in the energy industry, it has no power over Mother Nature. And August was a soggy month, drenching the soil and thus clearing the way for high winds to easily uproot large trees that in turn brought down wires.

Taking all of this into account, Clendenin said Con Ed was ready.

“We were prepared with crews to respond to what we thought was coming. And what we thought was coming, did come pretty much. We had already arranged for crews from as far away as Colorado and Michigan to be ready and they were on their way before the hurricane even got here. So we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of outside utilities here in addition to our own.”

By Aug. 30, he said, slightly more than two-thirds of the outages in the county had been restored and the utility was targeting Sept. 1 “around midnight” to restore power to most, if not all, customers.

“We’re still on target. … but this storm really did a lot of damage. It’s difficult. A part of the problem for us is getting access to people with their outages, making sure trees are cleared away. Patience is paramount here. We want to do it safely and get everybody back as quickly as we can.

“You can’t recover from a storm like this overnight. This was the most outages from a storm ever in our service area.”

As of this writing, some 800,000 homes and businesses in the tristate area were still without power – as were some New York State Electric & Gas customers in northern Westchester. And reports were labeling Irene one of the worst storms, cost-wise, in history.

Sadly, many businesses do not have flood insurance, as reporter Patrick Gallagher notes in a page one story this week. Even some of those who do have policies say insurers take a long time to reimburse or are denying claims altogether.

How can a small business survive?

Not too reassuring in these times when we need to retain every single business as we toil toward economic recovery.

A power struggle to be sure.

Irene, your timing was poor indeed.

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