What It Will Take to Repower NYC
by Andrew Tarantola
"This is the largest storm-related outage in our history," Con Edison Senior Vice President for Electric Operations John Miksad told a crowd of reporters yesterday. He wasn’t kidding. Hurricane Sandy has left more than 780,000 customers from Manhattan out to Westchester County without power, dwarfing ConEd’s last major blackout, when Hurricane Irene nixed just over 200,000. So what’s it going to take to restore service to three quarters of a million New Yorkers? Surprisingly, it’s less than you think.
The Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., is a regulated public utility that provides electricity, natural gas, and steam to customers throughout NYC and Westchester County. ConEd imports much of its electrical power from Hydro-Québec in Canada by way of a pair of two 345kv transmission lines. It also interconnects with Public Service Electric and Gas in New Jersey and LIPA on Long Island though similar 345kv wires. Within its local system, ConEd has laid 93,000 miles of underground wiring and strung another 36,000 miles of overhead wires in order to bring power from substations to homes and businesses. The utility similarly relies on 7,200 miles of underground piping to distribute natural gas to customers. And, producing upwards of 30 billion pounds of 1000-degree steam each year (50-percent of which is generated by environmentally-sensitive cogeneration techniques), Con Edison also operates the world’s largest district steam system. You’d think Sandy would show a little respect.
But no, Hurricane Sandy’s heavy rains and even heavier winds have knocked much of the Con Ed power and steam systems offline. At least 200 power lines have been reported downed on Staten Island alone and who knows how many are down in Westchester, more than 180 of its roads are closed due to fallen trees and flooding, making inspection nearly impossible. The underground power network is in rough shape as well. Rising sea levels brought on by the storm surge have inundated numerous portions of this system with saltwater and will have to be pumped out before the equipment can be dried, inspected, and rebooted.
It isn’t all thunderstorms and lightning, mind you. Con Edison had the foresight to voluntarily shut down many underground systems, including at-risk portions of the electrical delivery system and all steam service below 42nd Street before they were swallowed by the sea. This is expected to save enormous amounts of time when rebooting because crews won’t have to repair shorted transmission lines or flush flooded steam pipes, as soon as the flood waters recede far enough to allow Con Edison workers access.
As of this afternoon, Con Edison has already restored power to nearly 140,000 customers and estimates that portions of Manhattan and Brooklyn served by underground lines should have power back within four days. Those served by overhead wires are going to be waiting at least seven days. There is no word yet on when steam service will be back online.
These are only rough estimates, of course, and as services are restored, priority will go to getting mass transit, hospitals, police and fire stations, sewage, and water-pumping stations back first.
“The work of getting our mass transit grid and our power grid restored…is going to take more time and a lot of patience,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday morning at a press conference. “Our administration will move heaven and earth to help them.”