New York City

Why did Con Edison cut power in Brooklyn?

On Sunday evening, Con Edison took the somewhat extraordinary step of pre-emptively cutting power to 33,000 customers in Southeast Brooklyn. Here’s why the unusual decision was made, whether it might happen again, who is at risk in the future and if the utility will face any repercussions.

A Con Edison repair truck.

A Con Edison repair truck. Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock

On Sunday evening, Con Edison took the somewhat extraordinary step of pre-emptively cutting power to 33,000 customers in certain Southeast Brooklyn neighborhoods, including Canarsie, Flatlands, Mill Basin and Bergen Beach, in response to the weekend’s intense heat. (A total of 52,000 customers lost power throughout the Con Ed service area.)

As of Monday afternoon, 14,000 were still without power in Brooklyn. It planned to bring power back to the remainder in the afternoon. Here’s what you need to know about the unusual decision to cut power – why it happened, whether it might happen again, who is at risk in the future and if the utility will face any repercussions. 

Why did Con Edison do it?

According to a statement from the utility on Monday, its actions were “necessary to prevent longer outages to the impacted customers” that could have resulted from damaged equipment. Earlier on Sunday, Con Edison had sent out an advisory asking that customers in Southeast Brooklyn reduce their energy usage. They sent similar advisories about certain neighborhoods in Queens and the Bronx as well, although those neighborhoods did not have their power cut. 

Allan Drury, a spokesman for Con Edison told City & State that before it turned off power to customers in Southeast Brooklyn, about 3,000 customers were already experiencing blackouts in the area. Drury said the utility expected more outages as equipment, including overhead lines and transformers, got hotter, so taking the pre-emptive step was meant to limit the duration of existing and expected outages. He added that cutting the electricity was also meant to prevent blackouts from cascading to other customers where equipment was beginning to overheat.

Richard Berkley, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Public Utility Law Project, said that Con Edison’s explanation is certainly plausible. While he acknowledged that it isn’t easy being a utility in New York, he added that heat waves are not unexpected and it should be able to handle them.

Is this common?

Drury said the actions taken by Con Edison on Sunday do not happen very often and said that “anything of this scale” as the result of excessive heat has not happened in recent history. He said that it’s far more common to reduce voltage to areas utilizing a high amount of energy, which Con Edison did in areas of the Bronx and Queens. Berkley said the practice of cutting power is more common in California – a utility in state took that step in June in order to reduce the risk of wildfires. However, Drury said that Con Edison did turn off power to the southern tip of Manhattan ahead of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 in order to prevent damage that could have lead to widespread blackouts. Drury said that Con Edison has one of the most reliable grids in the country, but said that the heatwave resulted in record-setting electricity demand. At 6 pm Sunday, he said that the electrical load, the amount of power it sent out, reached 12,063 megawatts, breaking the previous record of 11,855 megawatts set during a 2016 heatwave. Drury said the load, combined with three days of extreme sustained heat and humidity, put enormous stress on the system.

Is this likely to happen again?

Drury wouldn’t comment on the likelihood of Con Edison cutting power to customers in the future. He said that when the summer ends, the utility will begin analyzing its system to determine where it should make investments. Drury said Con Edison invested about $1.5 billion into its system in preparation for the summer of 2019, which is a fairly standard amount. However, as extreme heat and become more commonplace because of climate change, the strain that resulted in the power cut may become more common as well. In the case that Con Edison does cut power in the future, Southeast Brooklyn is not any more likely to be the victim of the outage. The decision on Sunday was made based on specific conditions at the time, not any inherent weaknesses or vulnerabilities in the Brooklyn neighorboods, according to Drury.

Can Con Edison get punished for cutting power without warning?

Con Edison operates under a contract with New York state and is thus subject to state regulation. The Public Service Commission oversees Con Edison and other utilities and has the power to investigate and order sanctions against those that breach the contract or engage in other forms of misconduct, up to and including revoking the utility’s contract. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had already ripped into Con Edison and directed the Department of Public Service, the staff arm of the commission, to investigate Con Ed following Manhattan’s blackout last weekend that resulted from and threatened to kick the utility out of the state. The governor echoed those remarks Sunday evening, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio offered similar sentiments on Monday. Berkeley expects to see something from the department within the coming days. He said the independent investigation will reveal information, such as how Con Edison has been investing its money, whether it has been making those investments wisely and why the utility wasn’t adequately prepared for the heat wave. The commission will decide what, if any, punishment to impose at the investigation’s conclusion.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.