(Bloomberg) -- After two major power failures involving Consolidated Edison Inc. in eight days, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is suggesting that the government take over the investor-owned utility.
“We don’t depend on a private company for water or for policing or for fire protection,” de Blasio said at a press conference Monday. “If they can’t handle the job, it’s time to look at new alternatives.”
The company that serves the most-populous U.S. city is facing mounting criticism. An equipment failure on July 13 left 72,000 customers on Manhattan’s West Side without power. Days later, as the U.S. East Coast braced for a heat wave, the firm sought to reassure the city that its system was ready. It wasn’t, and instead ConEd was forced to shut off power in parts of New York to prevent damage to its equipment.
In all, at least 53,000 customers lost electricity Sunday. Worst hit was a swath of Brooklyn where the company proactively halted electricity, as temperatures in New York City reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) and demand surged to a record.
As temperatures spiked, circuits in parts of Brooklyn failed. That meant the New York-based company had to shift some load onto overhead lines that were already delivering a lot of power to sweltering customers. To avoid exceeding those lines’ capacity and potentially damaging equipment, ConEd switched off electricity starting Sunday evening.
“We’re disappointed,” Michael Clendenin, a ConEd spokesman, said by phone Monday. “You can’t predict the equipment sometimes.”
Demand Sunday reached a weekend record of 12,063 megawatts at 6 p.m., slightly higher than the company had predicted but still below the system’s maximum capacity of 13,200 megawatts, according to Clendenin.
Shares of New York-based ConEd fell 0.5% to $86.80 at 1:30 p.m. in New York.
The actions “were necessary to prevent longer outages to the impacted customers that would have occurred as a result of additional equipment damage,” the company said in a statement Monday. There was also at least one manhole fire in Brooklyn, which the company said was probably due to heat and heavy demand.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is directing the State Department of Public Service to expand an investigation into ConEd outages that was opened after the July 13 incident.
“We have been through this situation with ConEd time and again, and they should have been better prepared,” Cuomo said in a statement on Sunday. “This was not a natural disaster; there is no excuse for what has happened in Brooklyn.”
New York isn’t the only big city suggesting a utility takeover. San Francisco has proposed taking on some of the assets of PG&E Corp. California’s biggest utility filed for bankruptcy in January under the weight of as much as $30 billion in liabilities for wildfires that have devastated the state. And on the East Coast, Philadelphia owns Philadelphia Gas Works Co., the largest municipally owned natural gas utility.
ConEd restored power to more than 30,000 customers overnight, the company said Monday in a statement. Those who still don’t have electricity should have service restored by the afternoon, according to the utility.
The affected Brooklyn neighborhoods in Sunday’s outage include Canarsie, Flatlands, Mill Basin, Old Mill Basin, Bergen Beach and Georgetown. The company reported on its website that 13,301 customers were without power across its service area as of 1:24 p.m. local time Monday.
Sunday’s outage came as relief is expected from dangerous heat baking a swath of the U.S. Lower temperatures are forecast after heat advisories and excessive heat warnings stretched from Oklahoma to Ohio and along the East Coast from Maine to South Carolina.
On Sunday, ConEd asked customers in southeast Brooklyn and parts of Queens, as well as some Bronx neighborhoods, to conserve energy while crews worked to repair equipment.
Separately, Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. reported Sunday night that power had been restored to most of the more than 27,000 customers on Long Island affected by equipment failures.
--With assistance from Stephen Stapczynski and Mark Chediak.
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