Watch CBS News

NYC Blackout: Cuomo Threatens To Strip Con Ed's License; Con Ed Says 'Protective Relay Systems' Failed


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo is threatening to strip Con Edison of its license to operate and has ordered an independent probe as the hunt for answers to the massive blackout that plunged the West Side of Manhattan into darkness continues.

Con Ed workers are conducting rush repairs ahead of an expected upcoming heat wave later this week.

Jackhammers are blasting trenches along West End Avenue and Con Ed workers are installing blocks of new cable around the West Side substation that konked out as part of a frantic attempt to avoid Cuomo's wrath, CBS2's Marcia Kramer reported. They are trying to find out what caused the Manhattan blackout.

Web Extra: Mayor Bill De Blasio Discusses Manhattan Blackout 

"There is no God-given right that says Con Ed must be the utility company," Cuomo told Kramer. "They can be replaced."

Patience with Con Ed is wearing thin because this is not the first time Con Ed failed its customers. Cuomo threatened punishment, and ordered an independent probe by energy experts to find out what caused the five hour outage that left 72,000 customers in the dark, from 30th to 72nd Streets, Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River.

"This system was supposed to be designed with redundancies. We paid Con Ed to design that system. They are not a charity," Cuomo said.

Workers have gone underground to seek answers, but only told Kramer "Sorry" when she asked if they were able to find the problem.

Late Monday afternoon, Con Ed released a statement detailing the results of their investigation.

Con Edison has been conducting a thorough review of events that led to Saturday's outage on the West Side of Manhattan. Our inspection of equipment and preliminary review of system data over the past 40 hours indicates that the relay protection system at our West 65th Street substation did not operate as designed. That system detects electrical faults and directs circuit breakers to isolate and de-energize those faults. The relay protection system is designed with redundancies to provide high levels of reliability. In this case, primary and backup relay systems did not isolate a faulted 13,000-volt distribution cable at West 64th Street and West End Avenue.

The failure of the protective relay systems ultimately resulted in isolation of the fault at the West 49th Street transmission substation, and the subsequent loss of several electrical networks, starting at 6:47 p.m.

Based on our experience with the transmission and distribution system, we initially believed the 13,000-volt cable fault was unrelated to the transmission disturbance. While the cable fault was an initiating event, the customer outages were the result of the failure of the protective relay systems.

From the moment the event began, we focused on restoring customers safely and quickly. More than half of the customers were restored in under three hours and all within five hours. Once we restored customers that evening, we immediately turned to determining the cause of the outage.

Our investigation has involved inspecting and testing transmission equipment, and analyzing the large volumes of data. Through this work, we determined that the outage was not caused by transmission equipment. Further analysis identified the issues with the relay protection system.

We have restored our system to its normal state to continue providing our customers with the high level of reliability they expect and deserve. Our analysis of data and testing of the relay protection equipment is continuing, and will provide more insight into why the system, and its multiple redundancies, did not operate as designed. We will share additional information as it becomes available.

Subways stopped, elevators stalled, restaurants were cleared out and the bright lights of Broadway went lights out.

Web Extra: Sen. Chuck Schumer Addresses Manhattan Blackout 

"We're going to get to the bottom of it, but it's going to take a little bit of time to understand how everything transpired," said Con Ed spokesperson Michael Clendenin. "Patience, resolve. Engineers and experts will get to the bottom of it."

"I am losing patience and it is frustrating," Cuomo said. "There have been a number of instances since Hurricane Sandy... we had issues in Queens, we had issues in Brooklyn. and these are not inconveniences. These are public safety emergencies. People could have lost their lives."

One of the reasons Con Ed workers are rushing to fix the problem is that a heat wave is expected later in the week, and the utility is already cautioning people to expect more problems.

Usage was ruled out as a problem, this time, but officials are concerned that it could become one.

"Our system is ready to handle the heat wave, but we expect there will be outages," Clendenin said.

"If Con Ed doesn't understand that in summer it gets warmer and people turn on their air conditions, then we have a bigger problem that I thought," Cuomo said.

Cuomo says the loss to businesses, restaurants and Broadway theaters is expected to be tens of millions of dollars. He says Con Ed will have to reimburse them.

The utility could also face stiff fines.

Photos: Massive Power Outage Hits Parts Of Manhattan

Ironically, the blackout happened on the 42nd anniversary of the 1977 power outage.

Tonight it's take-two for Jennifer Lopez after her sold-out concert was cut short by the blackout. She was on stage performing when the lights suddenly went out Saturday at Madison Square Garden. The arena was evacuated, and the show was canceled.

The singer is currently on her "It's My Party" summer tour in honor of her 50th birthday on July 24. She will be performing in Massachusetts tomorrow.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.