Sandy’s Blackouts Leave 2.5M Customers Lacking Power

Utility crews worked through the night to restore power to about 1 million more homes and businesses, leaving 2.5 million still without electricity today, mostly in New Jersey and New York.

A fifth day of blackouts in the U.S. Northeast taxed the patience of city and state officials concerned that utilities are moving too slowly to repair the ravages of Hurricane Sandy.

Frustration grew among consumers, many also without water, heat or phone service, as power companies advised that some areas may not get power back for another two weeks. A cold front is forecast to bring rain and possibly snow to the Northeast next week.

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“We knew this storm was coming, we went through this with Irene,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said at a press conference yesterday. “There was no great shock.”

Cuomo wrote a letter to the state’s seven utilities this week warning he’d revoke their operating certificates if their restoration efforts fall short. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, pledged to hold utilities to the timelines they’ve given on getting power back, and “if they don’t meet these deadlines, they’re going to have problems with me,” he said at a press conference.

“I know people want power and heat as quickly as possible. We’re attempting to do that, and no one knows how to pressure people as well as I do,” Christie said.

Lagging Irene

As of yesterday, the pace of recovery from Sandy’s power losses had trailed that of last year’s Hurricane Irene for a second day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Electricity had been restored to 4.6 million customers as of yesterday morning, or about 57 percent of those blacked out, compared with 74 percent at the same stage of cleanup for Irene, according to data from the U.S. Energy Department analyzed by Bloomberg. Sandy, one of the costliest storms in U.S. history, wrought the greatest devastation ever faced by the region’s power industry.

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Robert Mesuk, 76, and his wife, Sandra, 73, say they’re worried about how they’ll cope another week without electricity at their home in Wayne, New Jersey, served by Public Service Enterprise Group (PEG) Inc.’s utility.

“We’re in the dark with no food, no heating and no hot water,” said Mesuk, who is recovering from kidney surgery he had last month. “We were supposed to have our power back on today, then they told us Monday and now they are telling us November 10th.”

Suffering Grows

“If we have to suffer another week or two weeks, I don’t know how we will manage,” Sandra Mesuk said yesterday.

Utilities are taking longer to assess damage and make repairs because the extent of damage from Sandy far exceeds the destruction caused by Irene, said Brian Wolff, a senior vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, a Washington-based group representing publicly traded power companies. Restoration efforts are complicated by the widespread flooding damage caused as Sandy swamped parts of Manhattan and New Jersey with corrosive saltwater.

“This is the largest weather-related power outage caused by a single event in the U.S.,” Wolff said. “It’s really an unprecedented response to an unprecedented event.”

Consolidated Edison Inc. (ED), owner of New York City’s utility, restored power to the majority of buildings in Lower Manhattan after it was inundated by a record 14-foot tide Oct. 29, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Electricity Return

Con Edison has restored service to about 70 percent of its customers who lost power in the storm. About 280,000 of customers in New York City and Westchester County remain out of service today, it said.

Getting power back to all customers in Westchester, where blocked roads hamper repairs, may take until Nov. 10, Con Edison said. The company’s suburban Orange & Rockland unit, as well as utilities in New Jersey and Connecticut, issued similar forecasts.

“From what we’ve seen, Con Ed is doing as much work as they possibly can safely,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, said at a press conference yesterday. “They didn’t expect, and I don’t think anyone else did either, a surge this high.”

Flooding forced Con Edison to pre-emptively cut power to large swaths of New York for the first time in its history, ripped out chunks of Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk and submerged coastal communities in New Jersey.

State-by-State

As of today, 31 percent of homes and businesses in New Jersey, 9 percent of those in New York and 6 percent in Connecticut and West Virginia remained without electricity.

FirstEnergy Corp. (FE)’s Jersey Central Power & Light, which served many of the shoreline communities battered by the storm, said yesterday that the majority of the utility’s 1.1 million customers would have power back by Nov. 7. Those in hardest-hit areas would have to wait as long as 14 days for electricity, while the rest would regain service “once damaged roads, infrastructure and homes are rebuilt.”

“We know people are frustrated because they don’t see crews, but we are coming,” Chris Eck, a spokesman for the New Jersey utility, said in a telephone interview this week. Workers must repair high-voltage transmission lines, sub-transmission and substations before they can move into neighborhoods, he said.

New Jersey

Jersey Central reported 549,748 of the more than 1 million customers who lost power are still without it as of 3:52 p.m. local time today. Public Service, which also serves New Jersey, had 607,000 customers still without power as of 11:00 a.m. today out of 1.7 million originally affected, and said “virtually all” of those who had lost power would be back online within the next week to 10 days.

In Connecticut, which was especially hard hit by Irene and a freak October snowstorm last year, regulators are closely monitoring efforts to restore electricity. The state’s two largest utilities promised service would be restored to most customers early next week.

The Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority investigated the utilities’ response to last year’s storms and Chairman Arthur House said in a telephone interview that he wouldn’t rule out another round of hearings centered on Sandy.

Northeast Utilities (NU), owner of Connecticut Light & Power, estimates most of its customers will have electricity back by Nov. 6, said Frank Poirot, a spokesman for the company. UIL Holdings Corp. (UIL)’s United Illuminating will restore electricity to 95 percent of its customers by the end of Nov. 5, according to a statement.

Adequately Prepared?

“The utilities are better prepared with crews on the ground, but whether they are adequately prepared remains to be seen,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat.

The prolonged power crisis is mystifying to Rachel Coleman, originally from Greenville near the coast of North Carolina, who said she’d been through several hurricanes before Sandy knocked out her power in New York’s Lower Manhattan.

“It’s never taken this long to get the lights back on,” said the 23-year-old website editor. “I’ve been without power for two days before, but never a week. This is ridiculous.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Chediak in San Francisco at mchediak@bloomberg.net; Benjamin Haas in New York at bhaas7@bloomberg.net; Jim Polson in New York at jpolson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan Warren at susanwarren@bloomberg.net

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