A storm that ripped through western Suffolk County in late June did so much damage in so short a time that PSEG Long Island customers hit by the outage waited an average of 10.2 hours for power to be restored, the utility reported.
PSEG's four-day response to the storm, which knocked out power to 85,359 customers in Islip, Commack, Bay Shore and Babylon, cost an estimated $15 million to $20 million.
The average 10.2-hour wait for power to be restored was longer than for five other top storms PSEG has wrestled with since taking over management of the system in 2014, including a March 2018, nor'easter that took out power to 123,736 customers, PSEG reported. That nor’easter saw wind gusts of up to 78 mph, compared with gusts of 45 mph for the June 30 "straight line" storm, PSEG said.
John O’Connell, vice president of transmission and distribution for PSEG, blamed two main factors for the prolonged restoration time in June. For one, he said, this June's storm had not been forecast, and so the utility didn’t have the normal time to amass a restoration workforce.
“When we don’t see it coming and have to stand up the organization … it does impact the duration,” he said. He also cited “heavily localized damage" that did more damage than a similar "macroburst" storm primarily in Setauket and Stony Brook in early August 2015.
“What came through the area this year was targeted and hit it harder than what came through in 2015, and generated a lot more work,” he said. The June storm was a “worse event,” O’Connell said. “It’s not about the manpower, it’s about the system and the weather.”
PSEG and outside crews removed 846 fallen trees, replaced 185 broken utility poles and 291 damaged transformers, restoring power to more than 80 percent of those impacted in 24 hours.
Extreme-weather outages have continued through the summer. In July, PSEG fielded heat waves and thunderstorms that each knocked out power to more than 20,000 customers. A three-day heat wave starting July 19 knocked out power to nearly 30,000 customers, but customers only saw power out for an average 1.8 hours. Lightning and rain storm days before and after the heat wave saw power outages from 2.2 hours to 2.8 hours.
The heat wave also led the system to hit an all-time peak for electricity use on a Sunday of 5,474 megawatts (the previous Sunday high was 5,323 megawatts). This year's Sunday peak was also the highest PSEG has seen since it took over management of the system in 2014.
Despite that, O’Connell said, “The system really did hold up well.” No major equipment failures at electrical stations were reported, and only a single transmission cable was out, and restored within 24 hours.
One observer said the long outage response in June and the heat-related outages suggested the local electric grid, which is nearing the end of a $730 million federally subsidized storm hardening, may not be as fortified as reported.
“The system may not be the shape that they [PSEG] lead us to believe it is, and that they’re caught up on tree trimming and hardening this and that,” said Matthew Cordaro, a former Long Island Lighting Co. executive who also serves as a LIPA trustee. “We’ve been lulled into a false sense of security.”
Cordaro also questioned the utility’s reliance on outside work crews so readily, often at great expense. “You have to balance restoration with expense,” he said. “You have to do it in the most cost-effective manner.”
PSEG said its response was "strong" considering it was "unannounced" and produced "a very large number of difficult jobs."
One indicator of a storm’s severity is the number of outage locations, or jobs requiring repair crews, it produces. For this year’s June storm, PSEG reported 2,293 total jobs requiring work crews, about middle of the range compared with other top storms in the past five years. The March 1, 2018, storm had the most — 2,750 jobs, with 123,736 customers affected — yet the average customer restoration was near the lowest at 6.51 hours, according to the PSEG figures.
The August 2015 macroburst storm had 1,317 outage jobs to repair and took an average 9.66 hours to restore, PSEG said.