ALBANY - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday told National Grid to "get the power on now" as the Long Island Power Authority went down to the wire on its pledge to restore power to 90 percent of its customers by the end of the day.
Cuomo said it was unacceptable that thousands of residents were still without electricity nearly a week after Tropical Storm Irene and that there could be consequences. National Grid operates the electric system under contract with LIPA.
"In the long term, I will advise the LIPA trustees to consider this experience, and the utility's past performance responding to major storms, when National Grid seeks to renew its contract with LIPA," he continued. "In short, if National Grid hopes to renew its contract, they better get the power on now."
Tom King, president of National Grid USA, said the company understood the "frustration" of LIPA customers "and the reason for Gov. Cuomo's focus on restoring power to the fewer than 10 percent of the impacted customers who will remain affected by Irene this evening. That's our focus, too."
National Grid is vying with Con Edison and PSE&G for the $2.3-billion LIPA contract. LIPA trustees are to make a decision on the authority's future structure on Sept. 22. If they decide to continue with an outside company to operate the grid, they will choose the company. The current contract expires at the end of 2013.
While Cuomo can advise and recommend actions, and appoint a like-thinking chairman, the decision on which company gets the contract ultimately rests with the trustees.
On Friday night, LIPA chairman Howard Steinberg released a statement saying the board of trustees "takes Governor Cuomo's comments concerning the restoration efforts of National Grid, which operates the electric system on Long Island, and LIPA with the utmost seriousness and shares the governor's concerns about the speed of restoration efforts and the communication lapses which have occurred."
Meanwhile, LIPA by midafternoon Friday had reduced the number of remaining outages to 66,000 customers, about 13 percent of the total that lost power. It said it expects 99 percent of customers who lost power because of Irene to be restored by Sunday. LIPA said 7,500 crews, many still arriving on Long Island, would work through the weekend.
"The end of the restoration is in sight," LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey said. He said LIPA planned to hold an islandwide meeting with public officials once the work was complete to develop better procedures for coordinating tree crews and utility and municipal workers to speed restorations.
Saris Kazandjian, 73, of Melville, had been trapped at his Schwab Road house until Friday, when a Huntington Town crew removed a tree that had blocked his driveway. "I couldn't go to work," said Kazandjian, who works for a state government print shop in Babylon. His street still was without power. "I'm so exhausted," he said. "No power at night. I couldn't cook."
Earlier Friday, the massive fleet of trucks parked at Nassau Coliseum brought the latest crews to Long Island, most from upstate, officials said. Crews were given safety briefings and materials there and were to be sent out on jobs later Friday afternoon and evening.
John Bruckner, National Grid president for Long Island transmission and distribution, said power has been restored to all but 24 Long Island schools that had been without power, and said all of them are expected to be back by next week.
Hervey said the restoration rate would slow as crews fan out into individual neighborhoods.
With Yancey Roy
and Carl MacGowan