Power outages have plagued the northeast in the days following Tropical Storm Isaias, thrusting the impotence of officials, some of whom have attacked utility companies, to the forefront.
Isaias made landfall in North Carolina last week, making its way up the East Coast and causing mass power outages across the northeast. Residents of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York went without power for days, with tens of thousands still dealing with blackouts. On Monday, the New York Times reported that some 90,000 customers “mostly in New York and Connecticut,” continued to face the world without electricity.
While utility companies are working to restore power, all eyes are turning to the vulnerable population residing in nursing homes, but this time, the virus is not the only threat. A heatwave descended upon the northeast this week, increasing concerns.
Residents of Connecticut have directed the bulk of their anger at electric company Eversource. As of Monday evening, over 68,000 Eversource customers remained without power, according to the Hartford Courant. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has called on Eversource CEO Jim Judge to resign, but Democrat Gov. Ned Lamont (D) does not believe that is the answer.
“Right now everybody’s saying, ‘Off with their heads. Let’s sue them,’ but you did that last time. And you’ve had three different CEOs, so that’s not the issue,” Lamont said, suggesting that the company offer refunds to customers as an act of goodwill.
“If I were Eversource, I’d go beyond the call of duty when it comes to how we can try and make good for the people who have been hit hard by this,” Lamont said. “That’d be refunds, helping out the people who’ve had spoiled foods and the such.”
While Eversource stated that it will have power restored to the bulk of customers by Tuesday, Lamont hopes state regulators “adopt performance-based measures that would penalize utilities for poor responses in the future,” according to the Hartford Courant.
“It seems to me that if you do really well, you deserve a better rate of return, and if you don’t perform, if you leave tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands without service for days on end, now we’re going on a week, there should be penalties to pay,” Lamont said. “There’s going to be a cost for bad performance and a benefit for good performance.”
However, Eversource, which reportedly was not prepared for the 800,000 outages across the state, indicated in a statement on Monday that the slow response could have something to do with the pandemic-related restrictions and safety protocols, classifying linemen’s current work environment as “difficult.”
“We know how urgently customers need their power restored, especially right now given the pandemic and hot summer weather, and we are making significant progress,” Eversource President of Regional Electric Operations Craig Hallstrom said.
“Our crews and the thousands of out-of-state crews working alongside them have done a tremendous job under difficult conditions — working in the heat while abiding by social distancing and pandemic safety protocols,” Hallstrom continued.
“The field crews and thousands of support personnel working behind the scenes are committed to staying on the job until every customer has their power back,” he added.
Eversource indicated that approximately 35,000 customers remained without power as of Tuesday morning.
New York has also faced mass outages, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has placed the blame on utility companies, announcing an investigation into PSE&G and Con Edison while thousands, as of Monday, remain without power.
“Con Ed and PSE&G did a lousy job. It’s a technical term — a lousy job,” Cuomo said. “They were not prepared and they didn’t anticipate what it would take to get online quickly.”
Cuomo also noted that their franchises weren’t absolutely secure.
“They can require fines, penalties, restitution, and I want the utilities to know that we do not abide by the concept in New York that anything is too big to fail,” he said. “Your franchise can be revoked.”
“I’m not bluffing,” the Democrat governor said. “If you’re not serving the people of this state, they give you a license to provide a service. If you don’t provide the service, they will revoke the license and the license is your franchise.”
Both companies stated that they are moving to restore power as promptly and quickly as possible.
While unrelated to the storm, another blackout descended upon sections of Manhattan and Queens last Friday, which officials blamed on a “transmission issue”:
— Jeremy Settle (@JeremySettle) August 7, 2020
— Elizabeth MacDonald (@LizMacDonaldFOX) August 7, 2020
On Monday, New York City experienced yet another outage, which affected roughly 3,600 residents of the Bronx. According to Spectrum News, the company attributed the disruption to a “cable outage.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) appeared to join Cuomo’s call, questioning the efficacy of private utility companies.
“My question remains: why is this being done by a private company? Can a private company even possibly be responsive enough to the people? I’m not sure,” he told NY1 Political Anchor Errol Louis.
“I think the bigger conversation, Errol, is, should this be a publicly-owned utility that we can hold accountable?” he asked.
Approximately 4,200 people were still without power in New York City as of Tuesday morning.
New Jersey, which was also battered by the storm, has reported that power has been restored for the bulk of its residents, with 6,659 homes remaining without power as of Monday. Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said throughout the process, that his office was “pressing all major utilities to restore power as quickly and safely as possible.” About 780 customers were still without power as of Tuesday morning.
While the bulk of outages in Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) Pennsylvania have been restored, customers in Chester County say they have been, quite literally, left in the dark.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
Power companies have restored electricity to nearly all of the 700,000 customers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey knocked out last week. But in Chester County, some Peco customers say they were gaslighted by company representatives who insisted that their power was on, even when their homes were dark.
“People were calling like three and four times a day and still being told they didn’t have an outage,” said Dina Hitchcock, who lives on Hallman Mill Road in semi-rural East Vincent Township and was forced to mount a Facebook campaign to convince the Philadelphia electric company that, yes, they had no power.
Peco attributed the confusion, in part, to human error.
“In a small number of isolated cases, human error may cause customers to receive conflicting information about their outage when information is entered manually into our system,” Mayra Bergman, Peco’s vice president of communications, said, assuring that they are “working on corrective actions needed to minimize these incidents.”