State AG Schneiderman subpoenas Con Ed, LIPA over Sandy response

Utility crews repair electrical wires in Rockland County

Utility crews repair electrical wires in Rockland County that were damaged in superstorm Sandy's wake. (Nov. 2012) (Credit: Angela Gaul)

Dissatisfied with explanations by power companies and halfhearted apologies by Con Edison's CEO, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued subpoenas Wednesday to Con Edison and the Long Island Power Authority, a source confirmed.

People without electricity and local politicians have been calling for accountability for weeks since Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to millions, and now the state's two biggest utilities will be compelled to answer questions. Among them: Did Con Edison and LIPA live up to their obligations under state law to provide a safe supply of power in a reliable manner, and provide adequate service through severe storms?

Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to more than 2 million New Yorkers when it tore through the region Oct. 29. About half a million lost power in the Hudson Valley, and tens of thousands -- mostly in Westchester County -- waited two weeks for Con Edison to complete repairs and restore power.


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Local communities -- Yonkers, New Rochelle, Tarrytown and White Plains -- were particularly hard-hit in the storm, with frustrations boiling over as days passed without electricity and temperatures dropped.

In Rye, authorities closed 40 roads in the aftermath of the storm, and public works crews had them cleared two days after the storm, Mayor Doug French said. They expected Con Edison trucks to come rolling in, but it would be a week before the utility started making real progress on the 4,500 households without power.

"They should have had the resources lined up and ready to go to come in," French said. "We had our crews ready, we cleared the roads and then we sat and waited."

On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo empaneled a special commission to probe storm responses by utilities and several state energy agencies.

Unlike Cuomo's commission, Schneiderman can prosecute or penalize subjects of investigations.

Schneiderman's office declined to comment Wednesday. But a source familiar with the document said the subpoenas are wide-ranging, touching on issues that include tree-trimming maintenance and communications with the public.

Con Ed, the primary utility company serving Westchester County, could be subject to a portion of state public service law that says utilities must provide adequate service through severe storms, the source said, adding that work on the probe began a week ago.

"We look forward to reviewing the company's storm preparations and are cooperating with the requests of the attorney general and all interested parties," Con Ed spokesman Chris Olert said of the subpoena.

Other utilities in the Hudson Valley fared better, although they served areas that did not take the brunt of the storm. Central Hudson and NYSEG restored power to the majority of their customers within a few days. There were a handful of outages reported on Wednesday evening by Con Edison, but it was not clear whether they were storm-related.

LIPA didn't immediately return requests for comment.

The storm caused an estimated $33 billion in damage. Schneiderman's action also came a day after LIPA disclosed that chief operating officer Michael Hervey has resigned, effective Dec. 31.

French said he hopes the attorney general also looks into communication -- or the lack of it -- during and after the storm.

Instead of communicating with customers, French said, Con Edison "shunned that responsibility."

"We had residents turning to the municipalities for information which we didn't have," he said.

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