Blackouts Remain for 4.8 Million as Power Repairs Begin
The pace of power restoration following Hurricane Sandy has fallen behind that of last year’s Hurricane Irene, when utilities promised to make improvements after being lambasted by consumers and local lawmakers for their slow response.
Four days after the U.S. Energy Department began issuing notices on the storm, 45 percent of U.S. customers who lost electricity have been reconnected, compared with 51 percent in the same period after Hurricane Irene, according to data analyzed by Sam Brothwell, senior utilities analyst for Bloomberg Industries.
About 4.5 million homes and businesses in more than a dozen states remained without power as of 2 p.m. local time today, the department reported. That’s after power was restored to 4 million of the estimated 8.5 million customers who lost it during the storm.
Full restoration may take as much as two weeks longer in New Jersey, where 1.8 million customers, 45 percent of the state, had no power today. FirstEnergy Corp. (FE) said it will have “the majority” of its customers online in seven days.
“Customers in the hardest-hit areas are expected to be restored in an additional seven days,” the Akron, Ohio-based company, owner of Jersey Central Power & Light, said in a statement yesterday.
About 350,000 homes and businesses in Connecticut, hit last year both by Irene in August and an unseasonably early snowstorm that downed trees and power lines in October, are without power, according to the Energy Department.
“They are watching crews go elsewhere,” Blumenthal said. “They’ve seen this movie.”
Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, also a Democrat, investigated last year’s storm responses by Northeast Utilities (NU)’ Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating, the utility unit of UIL Holdings Corp. (UIL) After the investigation identified failures and weaknesses, the state imposed tighter standards.
“The utilities are better prepared,” Blumenthal said. “Whether they are adequately prepared remains to be seen. The proof is in the results.”
New York City utility owner Consolidated Edison Inc. (ED) wasn’t prepared for the record 14-foot (4.3-meter) tide, higher than forecast, that overwhelmed lower Manhattan, flooding its underground electrical system, John McAvoy, senior vice president for central operations for Con Edison, told reporters Oct. 30.
Public Service Electric & Gas Co., the utility for about three-quarters of New Jersey’s population, sandbagged electrical substations to avoid a repeat of Irene’s flood damage. It couldn’t prepare for the “wall of water” that arrived with Sandy, Ralph Larossa, the utility’s president, said on a conference call with reporters Oct. 30.
Effective storm restoration began about two days after the storm and initially was at a pace slightly faster than that following Irene, according to Brothwell’s chart of Energy Department data. That head start vanished today, he wrote.
“By day four, day five, patience will start to run thin,” Gregg Edeson, a Los Angeles-based utility industry consultant and executive at PA Consulting, said in an Oct. 30 interview. “I really do think you’ll see a better coordinated effort, but at the end of the day, it’s going to take some time to get customers restored.”
“We know people are frustrated because they don’t see crews, but we are coming,” said Chris Eck, a spokesman for Jersey Central Power & Light. Workers have been focused on restoring high-voltage transmission lines, and then moving on to sub-transmission and substations, Eck said in a telephone interview. Once repairs are done at substations, crews will move into neighborhoods.
As of 8 a.m. local time, 830,000 Jersey Central customers lacked power, Eck said. The utility has restored power to 370,000 customers.
“The storm did massive damage to our entire infrastructure,” Eck said.
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