ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped up criticism of power company Con Edison on Monday after a blackout Saturday night in midtown Manhattan left the city in temporary disarray.
Cuomo said state regulators will investigate Con Ed’s handling of the roughly five-hour outage ending shortly before midnight.
And Cuomo didn’t shy away from potentially kicking Con Ed out of New York if the findings show gross negligence. Con Ed has “an attitude of the too-big-to-fail banks,” Cuomo said, suggesting the company could be replaced if problems continue.
“This is a franchise. This is a license,” Cuomo said during an interview on WNYC. “This is not a God-given right, and if they don’t perform well, they can be replaced.”
Con Ed gave ‘the worst answer,’ Cuomo says
About 72,000 customers lost power Saturday night after a transformer blew, Con Ed said, causing 30 blocks from Times Square to the Upper West Side to go dark starting at 6:47 p.m.
Con Ed vowed to conduct “a diligent and vigorous investigation to determine the root cause of the incident.”
But Cuomo said the largest utility company in the nation needs to do a better job and provide details about what caused the outage.
“Con Ed said they don’t know, which is the worst answer you can give,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo called the blackout a “pure operation failure” on the company’s part and said the hours-long blackout was a public safety risk that could have plunged the city into chaos.
“We were lucky that no one died,” Cuomo said. “As governor of New York, I don’t want to rely on luck.”
In response to Cuomo’s comments, Con Ed said in a statement, “New York’s grid is the most reliable in the country, and we are focused on finding the root cause of Saturday’s outage.”
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Not the first issue with Con Ed
Saturday’s blackout isn’t the first incident involving Con Edison’s 62 power stations in the city: In December, a voltage detector at a Queens substation malfunctioned, causing the night skies around New York City to turn blue.
The Democratic governor has been critical of the company in the past over reports of poor service. In this case, he ordered the Public Service Commission to do an independent investigation.
The company provides 3.4 million New Yorkers with electricity and natural-gas service to 1.1 million customers throughout Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx as well as Westchester County.
John McAvoy, the company’s chairman, said Saturday night that Con Ed quickly determined the reason for the outage.
“It changed over time,” he said.
“Everybody didn’t all lose power at 6:47 p.m. because some items became overloaded and we actually had to take action to shut off power to other customers to prevent them from equipment damage. But over that period of time we knew exactly which customers were effected.”
McAvoy said he didn’t think the system was at further risk in coming days.
“So we have nothing to indicate that,” he said. “That being said, we have not done the root cause analysis that will identify exactly what caused this outage so you can’t exclude that until you actually know what the conditions were that caused this.”
Campaigning de Blasio faces criticism
Cuomo arrived at the scene Saturday night while New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was in Iowa campaigning for president.
De Blasio made it back to the city on Sunday, but the mayor drew heavy criticism for being absent during the blackout.
On Monday, the New York Post called for Cuomo to take steps to remove de Blasio from office. It said the city’s charter and the state Constitution allows the governor to suspend the mayor for 30 days and then can take actions to ultimately remove him.
But Cuomo, who has sparred with de Blasio for years, said Monday he would not do so.
“I’m not going to exercise my legal authority to move against the mayor,” Cuomo said on WAMC, a public-radio station in Albany.
For his part, de Blasio told reporters Sunday that he got back to the city as quickly as he could and was in constant contact with leaders on the ground.
“When I heard about the incident, I was waiting to understand exactly what was going on so we could make that decision. Also, it’s, unfortunately, on a Saturday evening,” he said.
“It’s a very long trip back, so I wasn’t going to be able to be here immediately under any circumstance. The most important thing was to get a clear picture – what was going on, was it going to be immediately resolved or not. Once it was clear it was not going to be immediately resolved, I started back immediately.”
While Cuomo said he was “not prepared” to remove de Blasio from office, he did say he believes it is important for a chief executive such as a mayor to respond when an incident takes place.
“There are more day-to-day operational issues for a chief executive where you are needed on site,” Cuomo said.