Con Edison: Manhattan blackout caused by substation malfunction

Buildings south of West 72nd Street were dark last Saturday night because of the outage. (Photo by Noah Gardy)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Con Edison announced last Monday that the cause of a blackout affecting more than 70,000 residents in Manhattan on Saturday, July 13 was due to a malfunction at the West 65th Street substation.

The outage, which occurred at 6:47 p.m., affected customers from West 30th Street to West 72nd Street between Fifth Avenue and the Hudson River. The six electrical networks that were affected were back in service shortly before midnight on Sunday.

Con Edison said that their inspection of equipment and review of the system data found that the relay protection system at the substation didn’t operate as designed. The relay protection system is designed to detect electric faults and directs circuit breakers to isolate and de-energize the faults but in the case of the outage, the systems did not isolate a faulted 13,000-volt distribution cable at West End Avenue and West 64th Street.

The utility had initially ruled out the 13,000-volt cable fault as the cause, believing that it was unrelated to the transmission disturbance.

As a result of the blackout, on Sunday, US Senator Charles Schumer called on the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity to investigate the outage and the current work that Con Edison is doing to maintain and upgrade the city’s power grid. Schumer said that the agency should consider a blackout in New York a priority because it underscores the need to improvements to electrical infrastructure throughout the country.

“DOE’s Office of Electricity must work hand in glove with the State and City of New York to shed light on the recent blackout,” Schumer said. “This type of massive blackout is entirely preventable with the right investments in our grid. DOE should identify what grid improvements will prevent a massive blackout from happening again in New York, and hopefully those lessons learned here can be applied nationally. It’s also clear that the current undertakings by Con Ed to maintain and improve the New York grid could benefit from additional independent oversight.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said that while he was ultimately grateful that Con Edison was able to conduct their investigation quickly and discover the cause of the blackout, it was disconcerting that the cause was one the utility had initially ruled out.

“Thankfully, as a result of the quick work of our first responders, no one was injured and there was no spike in crime in the five hours the incident lasted,” the mayor added. “Our city cannot be left in the dark like this ever again, and we will continue to push Con Edison for a full accounting of this incident to ensure they are taking necessary steps to protect all New Yorkers.”

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