BP Lee Calls for Full Rebate of August ConEd Bill for 73,000 Queens Customers

Inequitable, Disproportionate Pace of Restoration

Compound Effects of Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic

Precedent for Direct Remedy for Con Edison Customers

Rate Hikes in Recent Years Were to Improve Infrastructure, Safety and Reliability

(August 11, 2020 at 1:38pm)

QUEENS, NY – Acting Borough President Sharon Lee, together with federal, state and city elected officials and community boards representing some of the most heavily and extensively impacted areas of the borough, today collectively blasted Con Edison’s disastrous management of power restoration in Queens County that rendered over 73,000 of its customers without power in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias since last Tuesday.

Seven nights after the storm, over 3,000 Con Edison customers in Queens – as well as everyone else residing in those households – still remain powerless and in the dark amidst relentless heat and humidity.

Representative officials slammed Con Edison’s disproportionate pace and inequitable power restoration for Queens relative to the rest of New York City. Some noted the compounded effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Queens, citing residents feeling “trapped” by downed and hazardous wires left in the sidewalks and roads or suspended midair blocking home entrances and driveways for days on end. Officials also noted Con Edison’s rate hikes in recent years including 13.5% increase in residential electricity rates over three years, approved in January 2020, as well as past precedent for direct remedy to the company’s customers.

Many of the Queens elected officials at today’s news conference included members of both the New York State Senate and State Assembly Committees on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. The state legislature is planning hearings on the utilities later this month.

“Con Edison failed Queens in the immediate and extended wake of Tropical Storm Isaias, depriving us – at length – the necessary urgency, service and communications that we are owed as customers without a choice,” said Borough President LEE.  “While 73,000 customers in Queens were rendered powerless, here in the Borough of Families, the real impact hit real people in multiples of that. Con Edison has the power now to choose to do right by its Queens customers for the prolonged trauma and danger imposed upon them. I urge Con Edison to offer immediate and full rebates to the 73,000 Queens customers on this month’s bill to remedy this disproportionate and inequitable restoration. It is the very least Con Edison can do.”

“As customers, we are grateful to the workers, but after repeated recovery failures, patience for the company has long expired,” Borough President LEE added. “The only thing reliable about Con Edison post-Isaias was its consistent failure to communicate accurately and effectively to the public.  Power is essential, as we were acutely reminded during the heights of the pandemic. The restoration of power especially after a storm is a race against time for safety, public confidence and the preservation of livelihoods.”

91st Avenue in Woodhaven. Thursday, August 6.

Inequitable and Disproportionate Pace of Power Restoration

Officials slammed Con Edison’s disproportionate pace and inequitable power restoration for Queens relative to the rest of the City over the critical first 48 hours after the storm, at which point Con Edison had restored 89 percent in Brooklyn and 81 percent in Staten Island. By then, Con Edison had only restored 59 percent in Queens where 30,000 customers remained powerless, virtually as much as the rest of the city combined.

By Saturday, August 8, nearly 100 hours after the storm, Con Edison finally broke the 80 percent threshold of restoration for Queens; 14,000 Queens customers, however, were still left in the dark, over half of the remaining 24,700 outages citywide. By then, Con Edison had already long restored over 95 percent of impacted customers in both Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Compounded Effects of Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic

Con Edison’s restoration failures have compounded the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for many in Queens, which was the epicenter of the epicenter at the pandemic’s peak in New York. The extensive power outage and bungled restoration has caused prolonged trauma and danger to tens of thousands of Con Edison customers and their families.

Infuriating delays in power restoration and removal of downed and hazardous wires — as well as a consistent failure to communicate accurately and effectively to its customers and representative officials — not only left Queens residents feeling “exasperated” and “trapped,” but also created exceedingly dangerous situation and prolonged stress for Con Edison’s customers in Queens who rely on critical medical devices like CPAP machines.

Precedent for Direct Remedy for Con Edison Customers

There is precedent for Con Edison providing restitution to its Queens customers for a failed response to power outages. For nine days in July 2006, a Con Edison power outage left up to 174,000 people in western Queens without electricity. In January 2007, the New York State Public Service Commission determined that the blackout resulted from Con Edison’s “failure to address a multitude of pre-existing problems and issues associated with the operations, maintenance, and oversight of” its western Queens infrastructure. In 2008, facing legal action by Queens residents and business owners as well as an ongoing investigation by the Public Service Commission, Con Edison agreed to a settlement that provided a $46 million rate benefit for its customers, and a $17 million benefit fund for those directly affected in Western Queens, half of which was dedicated to significant bill credits.

Last week on August 5, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed the State Department of Public Service to launch an investigation of Con Edison and other New York utilities’ failed response to Tropical Storm Isaias.

91st Avenue in Woodhaven. Thursday, August 6.

Con Edison Rate Hikes in Recent Years

Following previous mass outages caused by Superstorm Sandy of 2012 and subsequent storms, Con Edison has spent approximately $1 billion in infrastructure improvements, paid for in part by a rate hike in 2017. Two components of Con Edison’s 2013 resilience plan were (1) to upgrade its overhead distribution equipment with the aim of “making the system more resilient against damage from high winds and downed trees and limbs,” and (2) “selectively undergrounding portions of the overhead system based on [its] analysis of outage data and field surveys of tree density.” But in 2018, after the 2017 rate hike was already in place, an ABC7 investigation revealed that Con Edison subsequently reneged on its initial plans to bury overhead power lines.

Earlier this year, the Public Service Commission approved the most recent Con Edison rate hike for residential electricity service, a 13.5% increase over three years, which was deemed necessary in part to “allow [Con Edison] to replace aging infrastructure and to modernize its systems.” But it is unclear whether these promised investments have been equitably implemented or have actually led to safer and more reliable service promised for Queens County.

“Queens residents are suffering from both COVID-19 and loss of electricity due to Tropical Storm Isaias — 73,000 Queens residents left in the dark is devastating,” said U.S. Representative CAROLYN MALONEY. “ConEdison must begin work immediately to restore power now.”

“Con Edison’s response to the storm was unacceptable,” said U.S. Representative GRACE MENG. “Many residents of Queens were forced to endure days of sweltering heat with no access to air conditioning, lights, refrigeration and other basic and critical needs. The utility must do better and needs to be held accountable. This is electricity we’re talking about. It’s an essential need and not a luxury, especially in the middle of a hot summer and public health crisis.”

“Last week’s killer storm was intense even if relatively brief and our constituents suffered substantial property loss as well as loss of power,” said New York State Senator JOHN LIU. “We can give Con Ed benefit of doubt when they say they deployed full-throttled response, but the problem is in the seeming lack of proper preparation and lessons learned after Superstorm Sandy 8 years ago. Financial consequence such as cancelling August bills will help instill accountability and incentive for Con Ed to really get on it. “

“Con Edison’s recovery following Tropical Storm Isaias has been inadequate, sporadic and unacceptable,” said New York State Senator TOBY ANN STAVISKY. “I understand restoring power to 73,000 homes in Queens is a difficult task, but leaving thousands without power nearly a week after the storm is just plain dangerous. Con Ed needs to be held accountable for their listless response.”

“The bottom line is that Con Edison’s response to Tropical Storm Isaias was simply unacceptable,” said New York State Assemblymember EDWARD BRAUNSTEIN, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Cities, which is a co-sponsor of the legislative hearing on utilities to be held later this month. “The utility was totally unprepared for the storm and its communication with those who lost power was severely lacking. Later this month, I will be co-sponsoring a legislative hearing on ConEd’s response to Isaias where we will be demanding answers about what went wrong and what changes need to be made going forward.”

“The lack of preparedness by our utility companies for Tropical Storm Isaias was beyond unacceptable. We have had conversations and reassurances from these companies that they’re ready for anything, yet a week after the storm hit my constituents are still without power,” said New York State Assemblymember STACEY PHEFFER AMATO, Member of the New York State Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. “I have no confidence in the utilities’ ability to carry out an emergency preparedness plan or manage post disaster recovery. This is a moment where serious reform must come, quickly, because we’re in the middle of hurricane season and we may be tested again very soon.”

“My colleagues in the state legislature have been calling for immediate plans to hold Con Ed accountable, including putting forward legislation to create a pathway toward a public takeover,” said New York State Assemblymember RON KIM, Member of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. “It is clear that an energy company driven by investor profits that have monopolized New York City’s energy market is not working. It is time to put our people over Con Ed’s profits.”

“It’s absolutely unacceptable that every call my office has made to ConEd over the past few days provided no updates on when residents could expect power to be restored. From downed trees sitting on power lines, major intersections without traffic lights, and seniors at home without electricity, outerborough neighborhoods continue to be an afterthought in storm preparation and recovery,” said New York State Assemblymember NILY ROZIC, Member of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. “While Queens residents have been left in the dark and at risk, it is clear that ConEd’s woeful inability to handle the City’s power must be investigated.”

“Con Edison’s response times were flat out horrible,” said New York State Assemblymember BRIAN BARNWELL. “We still have people without power.  We cannot continue to give Con Edison a de-facto monopoly without any accountability.”

“Almost a week after Tropical Storm Isaias toppled a gigantic London plane tree on my own block, it is still laying on top of the cars it landed on. I understand the frustration and disruption caused throughout my Assembly District by this storm. From Ravenswood to Sunnyside, Maspeth, and Ridgewood, there are trees still down, streets blocked, and power out,” said New York State Assemblymember CATHERINE NOLAN. “Understanding the difficulties, there still needs to be better coordination, response, and results following storms in New York. My thanks to my colleagues for working together to address these problems.”

“The repeated shortcomings of Con Edison have left residents struggling to bear extreme temperatures and cope with health conditions,” said New York City Councilmember ADRIENNE ADAMS. “In the aftermath of the recent tropical storm, we have been met with false promises and inefficient recovery. Con Edison has failed all New Yorkers and we must elicit full transparency for the people of this city.” 

“I know that Con Edison, like every agency, faces a tremendous number of locations that require attention after the recent storm,” said New York City Councilmember BARRY GRODENCHIK.  “Residents have been quite patient, but now a week has passed, and frustrations are rising.  Those who live in Queens, which was most severely impacted, need power restored right away.”

“In a post-Sandy New York City, there is simply no excuse to be overwhelmed and unprepared for a storm of this magnitude,” said New York City Councilmember PETER KOO. “New Yorkers don’t expect miracles, but we demand a reasonable degree of responsiveness, transparency and basic communications from our utilities. Sadly, too many have been kept in the dark.”

“Year after year, Con Ed reliably wins rate increases from the Public Service Commission; month after month, my constituents reliably pay their electric bills; yet storm after storm, Con Ed proves that it can’t be counted on to keep their refrigerators working, their air conditioners running, and their lights on,” said New York City Councilmember RORY LANCMAN. “Con Ed’s virtual monopoly on power in New York City cannot go on.”

“I’m beyond outraged at Con Edison and PSEGLI’s lack of preparedness for Tropical Storm Isaias, which left thousands of Queens residents in the dark,” said New York City Councilmember DONOVAN RICHARDS. “Now is the time to transition to public power, so the public has an opportunity to hold utility companies accountable,” ended Richards.

“Today, six days after Hurricane Isaias, a resident emailed Community Board 2 out of complete desperation.  She said that it took three days to get any kind of response from ConEd. They promised power would be on Sunday night and nothing happened,” said Community Board 2 Chairperson LISA DELLER. “‘It is now Monday and residents in her building still have no power,’ she asked. ‘How is New York City allowing this after everything that has happened with COVID?’ We agree. We need action now.”

“The numbers show Southern Queens — CBs 10, 12, and 13 — suffered the most loss of electricity in the Borough from Isaiais; and today, a full week later the people behind those numbers — our residents —are still suffering in the dark. Suffering first from their loss of electrical power, and second suffering from their powerlessness to get answers from ConEd leaving them in the dark about when to expect restoration,” said Community Board 10 Chairperson BETTY BRATON. “It may not be ConEd’s fault the lights went out, but it is ConEd’s obligation to get them back on and to provide clear information to people about when the company will get their power restored.”

Parsons Boulevard in Flushing. Thursday, August 6.

Eastern parts of Queens were most severely impacted by the storm as well as by the company’s failure to deliver reasonable expectations of service and reliability to its customers for over seven days and nights.  See the below graphic for the full breakdown by Community District of Queens customers still left powerless after the first 48 hours of Tropical Storm Isaias.

Also joining today’s news conference were Shameeza and Michael Singh of Queens Village, whose power was not restored until last night at approximately 11:00PM, seven nights after the storm. Joining the Singhs were their three young children, some of whom have compromised immune systems, including 6-year-old cancer survivor King Singh.

The following were also present at Tuesday’s press conference included:

Queens residents are encouraged to share their experiences from the wake of Isaias by contacting the Queens Borough President’s Office via [email protected] or 718-286-3000.

91st Avenue in Woodhaven. Thursday, August 6.

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