October 29, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
Bridgeport, CT—Senator Richard Blumenthal asked ConEd’s president, Craig Ivey, directly whether ConEd would commit to reimbursing Metro-North for the refunds it is distributing to riders to compensate them for the crippling power outage on the New Haven line in September. Mr. Ivey said the company would not because it would be unfair to ConEd’s customers. Watch Video
Senator Blumenthal called a field hearing in Bridgeport to determine ConEd’s responsibility during September 25 when a feeder cable feeding power to a substation in Mt. Vernon lost power, stranding hundreds of thousands of commuters for three weeks.
Mr. Ivey said that because Metro-North requested ConEd to remove the feeder cable from service, ConEd is not obligated to pay for Metro-North’s decision that had unforeseen consequences.
“We as a utility don’t believe that our customers should bear the risks when one customer decides to take out a piece of equipment out of service at their request,” said Ivey.
Senator Blumenthal asked about whether the cable that failed was ConEd’s equipment.
Mr. Ivey answered yes.
“And it was your responsibility to maintain and make sure that line served the substation owned by Metro-North, correct?” asked Senator Blumenthal.
Mr. Ivey didn’t answer yes or no, but said that Metro-North requested on September 13 that one of the two feeders that served the Mt. Vernon substation be taken out of service so that Metro-North could facilitate upgrades on the substation.
“We were performing freeze operations in order to facilitate the work on our feeders. This is a process that we’ve done going back decades. Our employees were following time-tested, documented procedures for these freeze operations,” said Ivey.
Ivey noted that the company is performing this week a forensic analysis of the cable, pipe and work area to determine exactly how the cable failed.
But Senator Blumenthal then asked Mr. Ivey about why was the company relying on cables that are 30 or more years old. The feeder that failed at Mt. Vernon was installed in 1976.
Mr. Ivey responded that age is not a factor in a feeder’s deterioration but rather the function of the thermal and electrical stresses to which the cable is subjected.
“We believe that thermal and mechanical issues are more correlated to failures with these feeders than age. We’ve done engineering evaluations on these cables and we’ve pulled cables of this vintage that are 60 years old and we find that the thermal insulation is very much not degraded at all,” said Ivey.
However, Senator Blumenthal said he believes the fact that the cable was six years beyond its normal design life was the contributing factor, if not the cause, of perhaps its deterioration and ultimately failing. He asked Mr. Ivey if he would deny that’s a logical conclusion.
Mr. Ivey in turn said that the company would have to go through the forensic analysis after the evaluation is completed in early November.
After the hearing, Senator Blumenthal expressed outrage that there was no contingency plan in the event of a cable feeder outage.
“I am absolutely astonished at the inept, non-existent planning, lack of backup, inadequate management, insufficient funding and preparing for this kind of breakdown in service. This breakdown is the responsibility of ConEd and Metro-North and in my view ConEd bears a major, if not predominant share of that responsibility,” said Blumenthal.
Also joining the hearing was Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy who expressed confidence that Connecticut is taking steps to build more electrical redundancy for the New Haven line with two new substations but is concerned about what he sees as a lack of commitment by Metro-North and Con Ed to build out redundancy on the New York side of the tracks.
“What we know now is even if Connecticut does the right thing, an aging infrastructure in New York still costs our state millions and millions of dollars. We need to get a lot more specificity from Metro-North and ConEd as to what are their contingency plans to build a redundant electrical system in New York. Those answers certainly weren’t sufficient today,” said Senator Murphy.
Follow Marc Bussanich on Twitter firstname.lastname@example.org