New York City Blackout Caused by Power Grid’s Protection System Failing

Source: By Jimmy Vielkind, Wall Street Journal • Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Con Edison says normal protection system didn’t isolate a faulty cable

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking to the media following a blackout in Manhattan Saturday. Photo: catherine koppel/Reuters

Consolidated Edison Inc. said in a statement that the relay protection system that is supposed to isolate faulty cables failed to shut down a 13,000-volt cable on West 64th Street. Power networks covering 42 blocks of the city then went down.

After “analyzing the large volumes of data,” the utility said it had “identified the issues with the relay protection system.”

The declaration came after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo attacked the utility for its handling of Saturday’s blackout, which affected more than 70,000 customers, in a series of media interviews.

The governor said the outage, which took five hours to fully fix, endangered New Yorkers. “This is Russian roulette, you know? People can die,” he said in a radio interview on WNYC-FM.

The governor has asked state investigators to probe the cause of the blackout. In a separate Monday radio interview on WAMC, he said the state-regulated utility could face fines or sanctions. He said Con Edison could be replaced, but didn’t see that as happening.

No injuries were reported as a result of the outage. Con Edison spokesman Philip O’Brien on Monday said the utility’s grid in New York City is the most reliable in the country.

This isn’t the first time Mr. Cuomo has gone after Con Edison. He ordered an investigation after an equipment failure last December in the Astoria section of Queens. In March 2018, the governor suggested the state’s Public Service Commission could revoke the licenses of utility companies, including Con Edison, after storms prompted widespread outages in the lower Hudson Valley.

George Arzt, a political consultant and one-time press secretary for former Mayor Ed Koch, said politicians frequently blasted phone, cable and electric companies because they are generally not beloved by consumers.

“You can’t lose hitting a utility,” Mr. Arzt said in a Monday interview.

Mr. Cuomo rushed to the affected area on Saturday evening and held a news conference. At the same time, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was in Iowa as he seeks the Democratic nomination to run for president.

Mr. Cuomo on Monday said he wasn’t criticizing Mr. de Blasio for his absence, but believed a chief executive should be present at emergency situations to project an aura of control to the public. The New York Post on Monday called for the governor to remove the mayor from office.

Mr. de Blasio, speaking Monday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” said he was making decisions in Iowa as emergency responders were doing their job. “Our agencies performed exactly the way they needed to,” he said.

—Katie Honan contributed to this article.

Write to Jimmy Vielkind at