(Bloomberg) — After Hurricane Sandy plunged much of the New York region into darkness in 2012, local electric utilities spent more than $3.5 billion to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
And yet, one week after Isaias roared through, more than 40,000 New York-area customers remained without power. Over 1 million homes and businesses were still in the dark as late as five days after the storm. Why?
The short answer: Utilities girded for another Sandy. They got Isaias instead.
While New York-area power providers have funneled billions into protecting their infrastructure from the storm surge and flooding of a Sandy, they say there’s only so much they can do against the wind gusts of an Isaias, which can tear down mature trees and snap utility poles.
That means occasional, lengthy blackouts could become the new normal for New Yorkers, particularly as storms grow both more frequent and more severe due to the warming climate.
“These major storms slamming trees and limbs and other debris into pieces of infrastructure are going to cause outages,” said Jon Wellinghoff, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the founder of GridPolicy Consulting. “There’s no way to avoid that.”
Isaias’s rampage through the Northeast initially left more than 2 million homes and businesses without power, becoming one of the worst storm-related outages since Sandy, which blacked out almost 5 million customers in New York State and New Jersey. As of Wednesday, more than 16,000 outages remained, mostly in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties in New York State and Connecticut’s Fairfield County.
About 700 miles to the west, over 600,000 families and businesses were without electricity for a third day after deadly winds cut a path of destruction across Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana Monday.
Read More: One Million Lost Power in Storm That Spawned Chicago Tornado
The New York-area utilities maintain the money they’ve spent strengthening the grid in recent years helped them restore service faster than they could have otherwise. But public officials — and a few utility executives — say the companies underestimated Isaias, failing to have enough workers on hand to launch into repairs once the fast-moving storm cleared the region.
One utility, Consolidated Edison Inc., had to fly in reinforcements from other states after the fact. Governor Andrew Cuomo labeled the companies’ response a “lousy job,” while a Connecticut lawmaker suggested breaking up one of the utilities, Eversource Energy, saying it had grown too large and unfocused to […]