PSC proposes $102 million in penalties for Con Ed’s Isaias response

One the many trees that toppled over during Tropical Storm Isaias, causing massive power outages across Queens. 

After Tropical Storm Isaias swept through New York City on Aug. 4, tearing down trees and power lines and leaving 73,000 Queens customers without electricity, Gov. Cuomo initiated an investigation of the failures that caused the widespread outages.

He announced Thursday that the Public Service Commission, the state body that oversees utility services, has completed its investigation that concluded three utility providers should be penalized $137 million based on their failure to prepare for the storm.

"We had Hurricane Isaias back in August and we once again had delays from the utility companies. They want to say the storm is the reason why the service was disrupted. I understand that, and New Yorkers are reasonable, but we're paying you for the service of restoring power after the storm. I'm going to do everything I can do to make sure New Yorkers are compensated, and certainly that New Yorkers are not paying for service they're not getting," Cuomo said in a statement.

Cuomo told reporters that of the three utilities involved in the investigation ConEd received the lion’s share of the penalties with $102 million for 33 violations. Orange and Rockland Utilities will be penalized $19 million for 38 violations, and Central Hudson Utilities penalized $16 million for 32 violations.

All three providers will now be given a chance to defend their storm response’s apparent violations of the laws, regulations and orders that are designed to ensure the safety and reliability of the electric system. Former Queens Councilman Rory Lancman, who recently left his City Hall post to take the role of special counsel for ratepayer protection, will hold a series of public forums illustrating the harm the utilities caused residents during the storm.

Over the summer, acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee forcefully condemned Con Ed’s response arguing that the first 48 hours after the storm showed the utility’s inequitable power restoration in the borough. Within two days, Con Ed had restored 89 percent of outages in Brooklyn and 81 percent in Staten Island but only 59 percent in Queens, where 30,000 customers remained powerless, virtually as many as in the rest of the city combined. Meanwhile peak outages on Aug. 4 affected approximately 900,000 customers across the state.

The PSC’s investigation found that Con Edison did not follow the requirements of an emergency response plan that the regulatory body had previously ordered for it. The commission also declared that it would be scrutinizing Con Ed's certificate of public convenience and necessity, the legal requirement that gives it franchise rights as a utility, to determine whether it should be revoked.

"The PSC has the responsibility to determine how reasonable people would have performed the task that confronted New York's utilities regarding Tropical Storm Isaias,” said PSC Chairman John B. Rhodes.

The same day as Cuomo announced the post-Isaias investigation, the PSC also released the findings of a probe into the Brooklyn and Manhattan blackout in 2019, which proposed $25 million in penalties on the utility for failing to follow outage prevention and restoration procedures.

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