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Con Ed 'Sincerely Regrets The Power Disruption,' Still Needs To Investigate Cause

On Saturday night, the West Side of Manhattan was plunged into darkness for up to five hours. On Sunday, Con Ed apologized for the power outage, but the utility still does not know exactly why the substation's equipment failed and "de-energized." [Update: The outage was caused by a more minor 13,000 volt feeder cable blowing out.]

The blackout started at 6:47 p.m. on Saturday, spanning 30th Street to 72nd Street, and Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River. With traffic lights out of service, civilians jumped in to help direct traffic. Subway service was massively affected, with signals losing power, meaning trains were stuck in tunnels (train operators manually changed the signals). Aboveground, Broadway shows and other cultural institutions had to cancel their shows (even Jennifer Lopez at Madison Square Garden, which was moved to Monday night).

Ahead of a Sunday press conference, Con Ed issued a statement:

"Our operators... saw at our West Side transmission station a number of breakers open up, effectively de-energizing the neighborhoods surrounding that West Side station," Timothy Cawley, president of Con Ed, said at the press conference. He explained that as soon as the outage occurred, they worked to understand the status of that equipment and then determined a path to bring power back.

Power was restored to all six networks—covering approximately 72,000 metered customers— that lost electricity by 11:30 p.m. Now, Cawley explained, Con Ed will analyze data from Saturday night and create a detailed timeline of what happened, "We'll understand the dynamic of the grid and why a failure of one equipment, if that's what it turns out to be, led to a much larger impact on the system." The outage was not related to demand, Cawley declared, noting that it was a Saturday night with relatively low demand.

Senator Chuck Schumer urged the Department of Energy to "work hand in glove with the State and City of New York to shed light on the recent blackout—this type of massive blackout is entirely preventable with the right investments in our grid. DOE should identify what grid improvements will prevent a massive blackout from happening again in New York, and hopefully those lessons learned here can be applied nationally."

Mayor Bill de Blasio, back in NYC on Sunday after cutting short his presidential campaign trip to Iowa, wasn't convinced about the productivity of working with the federal Energy Department, calling them "incoherent." The mayor (who toured the Con Ed substation about twelve hours after Governor Andrew Cuomo), also emphasized that the outage was "not a cyber attack" or related to terrorism.

Cawley noted that the 2003 city-wide blackout was caused by issues outside of New York City (specifically, an overgrown tree branch in Cleveland) and said Saturday's outage seemed, at this point, more like the 2006 Astoria power outage, where multiple sets of transformers failed... leaving Astoria residents without power for days.

"We've built in a lot of capacity redundancy and design resilience," Cawley said of the electrical set up. "So that's what we're going to have to dig deep to understand... [why] this event got past that and resulted in the large outage."

No injuries were reported during the outage. Commissioner of Emergency Management Deanne Criswell, not even two weeks into the job, said that Mount Sinai West, the hospital in the outage zone, lost power but switched to its back-up generator. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro noted that firefighters, as well as the police, responded to more than 400 incidents of people stuck in elevators—"We live in a vertical city"—and everyone was successfully removed.

Calls to 911 spiked, and Police Commissioner James O'Neill acknowledged "there was a little problem, there was a little bit of a backup"—a 30-second delay that lasted from the start of the outage until 8 p.m. Also, regarding the brigade of New Yorkers who took it upon themselves to direct traffic, O'Neill said, "I appreciate New Yorkers, people stepped up to the plate to help keep traffic moving. Do I want civilians directing traffic? Probably not... But if that's the way we can clear up traffic before we get there, they just have to do it safely."

The city and Con Ed do not have an exact number of how many people were affected by the outage. The 72,000 customer figure represents the utility's metered customers, but a metered customer could be an entire apartment building or a venue, like Carnegie Hall. "That's really the way we report out... the number of meters. In some cases, every resident gets a meter, in some cases the buildings get a meter," Cawley said. "I do not have an estimate, but it is certainly more than the 70,000 metered customers in the area."

Like those thousands who went to see Jennifer Lopez on Saturay night:

Or Dave Chappelle, whose show was also canceled:

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