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PSEG LI says outages could last 2 weeks, if storm worsens

With Henri approaching, PSEG LI is using a

With Henri approaching, PSEG LI is using a staging area at Calverton Executive Airpark for possible restoration of power. Credit: Randee Daddona

PSEG Long Island said the potential for "severe damage" from Hurricane Henri could cause outages that last up to two weeks, if the storm continues to strengthen and track farther west.

A LIPA official said that based on historical data, if Henri tracks "through the middle of Long Island … there could be upwards of 600,000 outages," or just over half of LIPA’s 1.1 million customers, though the official said the number wasn’t a formal prediction and would be lower, closer to 450,000, if it tracks more toward the east.

PSEG and LIPA, in advance of Tropical Storm Isaias last summer, had said outages could total 200,000 to 400,000. Outages from that storm ultimately exceeded 645,000, with 535,000 customers impacted.

PSEG Long Island operates the system under a contract with LIPA.

Outgoing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, during a briefing Saturday, said he expected "significant outages" from Henri, and suggested those facing the storm's wrath "think back to Superstorm Sandy" as a guide. That storm knocked out power to more than 900,000 customers on Long Island.

The prospect of outages lasting up to two weeks from Henri is an increase from the prior estimate of seven to 10 days. On Saturday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran called those initial outage estimates "unacceptable" and urged PSEG Long Island to call in more workers.

PSEG said the update reflected the storm’s intensification to a Category 1 hurricane on Saturday, adding that much will be determined by the storm's track.

"If the forecast continues to strengthen and the storm moves farther west, restoration could take up to 14 days," PSEG’s senior director of transmission and distribution, Michael Sullivan, in a statement. If the prior track holds, Sullivan said, the "severe" damage from the storm could still lead to outages that last seven to 10 days.

He said the utility was "prepared for hurricane-force winds" and offered the outage predictions "to help set expectations about the storm’s potential so that they can also prepare."

PSEG said it had secured some 3,300 line workers, tree trimmers and others to help in the potential restoration, and said it expects most severe weather and impacts on the East End.

PSEG spokeswoman Ashley Chauvin said there’s a standing request for "thousands" more, and that PSEG’s New Jersey sister utility PSE&G could be called in if lesser damage to that service area permits. Some National Grid workers are also at the ready, though that natural gas company is itself preparing for potential damage from the storm.

Chauvin said the worst damage is expected from Islip to Montauk, where more than 450,000 LIPA customers reside.

The utility said it is shifting resources across the region to have crews and equipment close to where the most damage is expected, for quicker restorations.

PSEG on Friday said it had upgraded and tested storm outage systems, equipment and contingency plans and declared itself ready, despite unrelenting criticism from LIPA about its storm prep as recently as May, when a LIPA report found customers still faced "considerable risk" due to outdated computer systems and other issues. Countered Chauvin, "This is what we’ve been preparing for."

One public official said Henri will truly test the utility’s preparedness, including LIPA's oversight role of grid manager PSEG.

"This is obviously going to be a huge test," said State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport), whose district includes Long Island’s largest power plant in Northport. In recent weeks, the utility has been relying more on Long Island fossil fuel plants after two major power lines to Long Island failed and remain out, and a third is at half capacity. Temperatures next week are expected to reach 85 degrees.

"PSEG said they’ve fixed all their problems," Gaughran said. "Let’s just hope they have."

Cuomo said the state was "working with the power companies. I have told them clearly and convincingly, in my opinion, that this is what we pay the power companies to do, to be ready for storms."

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