Power Disruptions Rise as a Weakening Irene Rakes New York

Police Cars Stand Near Damaged Power Line
Millions of homes and businesses are likely to lose power as Hurricane Irene plows up the eastern coast of the U.S. ripping down power lines, like these in Cape Loukout, N.C. Photographer: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

More than 3 million homes and businesses along the U.S. East Coast were without power today as a weakening Hurricane Irene lashed New York with winds and rain.

Tumbling trees and debris dragged down power lines and winds blew over electrical poles, cutting off power to more than 340,000 customers on Long Island, where the storm made its second landfall, according to Long Island Power Authority.

Exelon Corp.’s Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey shut down its reactor as a precaution ahead of the storm, and other reactors reduced power.

One of the nuclear reactors at Constellation Energy Group Inc.’s Calvert Cliffs nuclear station in Lusby, Maryland, shut down automatically after the plant’s main transformer was hit by wind-driven debris, the company said in a statement. The plant remains safe, the company said.

No decision had been made by utility Consolidated Edison to cut power in low-lying areas as a precaution, said Alfonso Quiroz, a spokesman. The utility is “cautiously optimistic” it won’t have to cut power and is keeping its options open in case conditions worsen, he said.

Lightly Affected

Manhattan appeared to be only lightly affected by the storm so far, said Chris Olert, another Consolidated Edison spokesman. About 90,000 of the utility’s customers had lost power as of 9:30 a.m. local time, including 28,000 in Westchester County and 62,000 in New York City in places such as Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, Olert said.

Nuclear reactors near the coast in New Jersey and Connecticut began powering down as a precaution, said David McIntyre, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Reducing power will allow the plants to shut down faster and more efficiently if it becomes necessary.

Exelon shut down its Oyster Creek nuclear reactor in New Jersey as of 5 p.m. local time in anticipation of hurricane-force winds at the plant, the company said in a statement.

“Although we cannot predict with certainty whether we will see those wind speeds on the plant site, based on current weather projections and because of Oyster Creek’s proximity to Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, it is prudent to safely shut down the plant in advance,” Exelon’s vice president at the site, Michael Massaro, said in the statement.

Constellation said its Unit 1 reactor at Calvert Cliffs remains safely offline.

No Public Threat

There is no threat to staff or the public and “the facility’s Unit 2 is stable and operating at 100 percent power,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Dominion Resources Inc. is reducing power to 70 percent at one of its reactors at its Millstone plant near New London, Connecticut, and to 50 percent for the second reactor.

Entergy Corp.’s Indian Point plant, about 35 miles from midtown Manhattan, and Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts, continue to operate at full capacity.

Entergy’s procedures call for Pilgrim to begin powering down if the plant sees sustained winds of 75 miles (120 kilometers) per hour or more, said Carol Wightman, spokeswoman for Pilgrim Nuclear Power station.

Powering Down

Near the coastline where Irene came ashore, Progress Energy’s Brunswick reactors in North Carolina were powered down to 70 percent. Dominion’s Surry reactors in Virginia were operating at full power, MacIntyre said.

PJM Interconnection LLC, the grid operator that coordinates electricity transmission across much of the region in Irene’s anticipated path, does not expect any disruptions to the grid even with some nuclear plants shutting down, Ray Dotter, a spokesman, said in an interview.

The grid can pull power from other generators, and demand also will be lower during the Saturday-Sunday weekend and because of storm outages, he said.

“We’ve taken into account the plants that were likely to shut down and scheduled additional generation,” said Dotter, whose organization coordinates the movement of wholesale power across 13 states and the District of Columbia. “We don’t want to lose generation from Oyster Creek, but we have other plants ready to increase their output.”

Progress has about 1,000 line and tree workers staged across its service area in the Carolinas prepared to tackle outages, three times the normal number, Julia Milstead, a Progress spokeswoman, said. Dominion has 2,300 line workers standing by for repairs across North Carolina, Karl Neddenien, a spokesman, said in an interview.

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