In our local papers, including today's New York Times, Kevin Burke, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Con Edison, has published a full-page open letter addressed to the hundreds of thousands of Queens residents who were recently without power for some nine days. Interestingly, Mr. Burke deliberately skirted words of apology, regret, or remorse. Rather, he expressed an "awareness" of the hardships faced and "gratitude" for our neighbors' "patience and strength." Burke assured that the utility would work to restore public "trust and confidence" and offered the following action plan:
Moving forward, I promise you that we will find out what caused this extraordinary series of events in our system, and we will repair, rebuild and improve the damaged infrastructure.Well, Mr. Burke, it seems that you won't need to look very far to uncover the outage's cause.
In a press release dated July 24, 2006, Attorney General Elliot Spitzer noted that the problems which precipitated the recent blackout were identical to those which plagued our City back in July of 1999; some seven years ago. In March of 2000, the AG's office identified the effects that intense heat had on the utility's underground cables and offered thirteen specific recommendations, none of which appear to have been implemented by the company since the report's original release. In particular, the AG suggested that Con Edison:
- develop a test for detecting equipment vulnerable to heat stress, overload or other sudden failure;
- establish a protocol for power grid management that includes mandatory reporting to local and state officials;
- improve crisis communications with customers, government and the public, including more accurate reporting of customer power loss and the time needed to bring customers back on line; and
- increase the amount the company pays customers for food and perishables ruined by lack of refrigeration, and compensate customers for appliances damaged by power outages.
With about $12 billion in annual revenues and $25 billion in assets, Con Edison is supposedly one of the nation's largest investor-owned energy companies providing electric, gas and steam service to more than 3 million customers in New York City and Westchester County. In view of the expansive breadth and scope of the company's reach, the utility's failure to heed the warnings of the late 1990's is completely indefensible and cause for concern. It strikes us as a deliberate act of neglect, omission or disregard that warrants pubic rebuke and reproach. And, unlike our City's Mayor--who recently suggested that the utility deserved our "thanks"--we believe there should be formal hearings and the utility's management held accountable (criminally and/or civilly) for the mishap. At a minimum, some penalty or sanction of a substantial nature should ensue.
We're sorry, but expressing "gratitude" and proffering vague assurances that significant infrastructure problems will be addressed in the future (when they have been ignored in the past), just doesn't cut it.
For a copy of the Attorney General's press release, dated July 24, 2006, please click on the following link:
For a copy of the Attorney General's March 2000 report, entitled "Con Edison's July 1999 Electric Service Outage," please click on the following link:
The text of Mr. Burke's open letter follows:
To the Residents of Northwest Queens
The recent power outage in Queens was a painful ordeal for residents and businesses in the area. I am deeply aware of the many hardships you faced--disruption of daily routine, enduring the heat without air conditioning and the uncertainty as to when everyday life would resume. I am grateful for your patience and strength which were severely tested during the outage. While you endured, Con Edison worked hard to restore service, and we will strive to restore your trust and confidence in us.
I am proud of the men and women of Con Edison who work long hours under difficult conditions to serve New Yorkers every day. We thank the crews from other utilities that came to our aid when we needed it most. We also thank the City of New York, especially the Office of Emergency Management and the Police Department, and the Red Cross for providing much needed support services to residents in the area.
Moving forward, I promise you that we will find out what caused this extraordinary series of events in our system, and we will repair, rebuild and improve the damaged infrastructure.
In a crisis affecting thousands, it's easy to forget the Con Edison employees are committed to delivering energy safely and reliably every day. It is a commitment we take seriously.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer