For years, City Council members Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) have been telling anyone who will listen that Con Edison needs to place more of its overhead electric wires underground to protect them from severe weather ranging from hurricanes, blizzards and, three years ago, a tornado.
Now they and Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) are pushing a bill for a comprehensive, citywide study of where power lines can be placed underground.
And the utility has suggested burying “select” power lines belowground in a proposal it made on Jan. 25, outlining $1 billion in upgrades the utility says are necessary to increase reliability during potentially destructive weather conditions.
“In 2010, we had a microburst and a tornado that took out 840 trees in Queens; 10,000 homes in my district were without power for 10 days,” Halloran said. “Con Edison restrung those lines at the cost of millions of dollars and then that winter we had a snowstorm where 8,000 homes lost power for four days.”
He said Hurricane Irene in 2011 knocked out thousands of homes in his district alone for four days, with the utility again spending millions to restring wires throughout the outer boroughs.
“Then last year, we had Hurricane Sandy, which saw 15,000 in my district alone without power for up to 15 days,” he said. “In addition, car and truck traffic shut down because there was no way to fill them because gas stations had no power. They spend millions more.”
Most of Manhattan, Halloran said, had power restored within four days of Sandy.
“Why? Their power lines are belowground,” he said. “But Con Ed has said it is too expensive to put lines underground in Queens.”
Crowley could not be reached for comment for this story, but ever since assuming office she has repeatedly called for Con Ed to bury lines in Middle Village which have proven vulnerable to severe weather with high winds.
Con Edison’s proposal, which it calls Fortifying the Future, includes — but is not limited to — making much of its equipment submersible to withstand flooding; adding new walls and flood barriers to electric and steam production facilities; fortifying 13 substations in low-lying areas of the city against flood damage; and making all future underground equipment floodproof.
But the utility also is asking the Public Service Commission for up to $400 million in rate hikes to offset the cost.
The New York Post quoted a letter from Council Speaker Christine Quinn to Con Edison CEO Kevin Burke and President Craig Ivey that said rate hikes at this time would be a burden on those still recovering from Hurricane Sandy.
Quinn’s office declined to respond to multiple requests for a copy of the letter. But Halloran, in a rare alliance with the speaker, believes the utility is capable of footing the bill for upgrades without harming consumers’ wallets. He believes the proposed upgrades are well within the utility’s financial ability to provide.
“The PSC gives a monopoly to Con Edison for power in this city,” the councilman said. “With that monopoly comes a responsibility for them to employ modern technology and to consistently deliver the energy that keeps our homes safe and our businesses running.”
Halloran said his, Crowley’s and Comrie’s bill would look at where lines could and could not be buried, and what it would cost.
It would also bring to the planning table telecommunications companies, city water and sewer officials and any other entity that buries cables or equipment beneath city streets and sidewalks to better coordinate — and reduce — projects that result in ripped up pavement.
This article has ben edited fro the original to correct an inaccurate interpretation of Con Edison's official response.