By David Kligman
Con Edison, the New York utility that powers the city that doesn’t sleep, praised PG&E for quickly sending crews to help turn the lights on for customers following Hurricane Sandy.
PG&E’s 170 electric employees were among 5,000 mutual-aid workers, including utilities and contractors, who traveled to New York in the days after the late October storm. More than a dozen utilities throughout the United States and Canada sent crews. PG&E’s contingent, which included 71 pieces of equipment, was one of the largest and traveled the farthest.
Con Edison’s Chris Olert told Currents the effort was “wholly appreciated.” The devastation was even more significant, he said, since it impacted the media and financial capital of the world and the bedroom communities that serve New York City.
“The Big Apple was just walloped by Sandy and PG&E made a huge contribution to bringing New Yorkers back,” said Olert, Con Ed’s assistant director of media relations. “We appreciate their help and at some point, God forbid, we would repay you all. We would do it.”
PG&E’s team spent more than two weeks in New York, helping restore power to thousands of customers in Queens and Brooklyn. The work was hard—16-hour shifts—and was interrupted by a Nor’easter storm that delivered freezing temperatures, sleet and snow. They returned to California last week. A second team from PG&E that flew to New York to assist with the Long Island Power Authority also returned last week.
Help offered four days before storm made landfall
PG&E, a member of several mutual-aid regional groups, reached out to Con Ed four days before the storm made landfall when it became clear the damage would be significant. And it was, with 1.1 million customers out of power in the Con Edison territory of New York City and Westchester County.
Looking back on the recovery, PG&E’s Angie Gibson said it was interesting to see stereotypes of Californians and New Yorkers fade away soon after the crews arrived.
“You just have this assumption that New Yorkers are very assertive and abrupt but the overwhelming welcoming that they gave us was humbling,” said Gibson, who is part of PG&E’s electric emergency management team. “And they assumed since we’re Californians we’d show up with surfboards and wearing shorts. When the Nor’easter hit, there was this perception that our guys would be the first ones in. It was ironic that we had to call them to tell them to pack it in. They actually were the last ones in that day.”
Olert said until Sandy, Hurricane Irene in 2011 was the worst disaster to impact his utility.
“And Sandy was four to five times the damage of Irene,” Olert said.
As of late last week, Olert said about 2,000 remained without power in the hardest hit areas of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. Those outages could take months to restore because of equipment damage.
“We need to get certified electricians in there to determine if the equipment is safe to re-energize,” Olert said. “But some of these businesses and homes have to be rebuilt from the ground up.”
Utility industry a ‘tight-knit fraternity and sorority’
Olert said he wasn’t surprised by the immediate offer of help from PG&E and other utilities.
“The utility business is a tight-knit fraternity and sorority,” he said. “Everybody helps each other out—hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, you name it.”
Gibson said 50 years ago communities could live without electricity for a longer period of time. Today everything from computers to household appliances to emergency 911 systems requires power. Even the federal government has labeled electricity as a critical infrastructure, she said.
It was heartening, she said, for PG&E to be able to help.
“It really kind of puts your faith back in humanity watching that community come together and having them embrace us as readily as they did,” Gibson said. “We’re more than just a California utility. We recognize our capability to help others in a time of need.”
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.