Con Ed settles in '06 blackout

April 24, 2008 5:01:30 PM PDT
Residential customers who lost power for up to 10 days during a sweltering summer blackout in 2006 would receive a one-time payment of $100 from Consolidated Edison under a settlement proposed Thursday by the private utility. The $17 million proposal includes payments of $350 for some large businesses, according to paperwork filed with the state's Public Service Commission.

The money would be distributed in the form of a credit on an upcoming bill.

Con Ed critics were sharply split over whether the payment would amount to anything more than a slap on the wrist for the giant utility, which was accused by some of failing to properly maintain its aging electrical network and mismanaging its response to the blackout in Queens.

State regulators said about 174,000 people lost service or experienced low voltage during the crisis, caused by the simultaneous failure of several major electrical feeder cables.

Many residents are still angry.

"There is a large segment of our group that did not want to settle at all," said Alyssa Bonilla, a leader of the Western Queens Power for the People Campaign, which helped negotiate the deal with Con Ed.

She said the group decided to settle because state law limits how much residents can recover from a utility, and, without a deal, there was no guarantee that any fines ordered by the state would end up going directly to customers.

"This is all we could get," she said.

The city, Con Ed and state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, of Westchester County, all signed on to the settlement, which still needs to be approved by the Public Service Commission.

A regulatory complaint against the utility would be dropped in exchange for the payments. Residents and business owners with legal claims against the utility would be free to continue pursuing them.

Some Queens lawmakers criticized the proposal as inadequate.

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, called the $100 payments "a slap in the face."

"If they think they are going to make anyone happy with this level of compensation, they've got another thing coming," Gianaris said.

"That doesn't even cover the rate increases that Con Ed has socked us with since the blackout," said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. of Queens.

Con Edison said in a statement that it regretted the hardships caused by the power failure and is committed to improving its systems.

"As we said at the time, our performance during the event did not meet the standards we set for ourselves, nor the expectations of our customers," the company said.

As part of the settlement, Con Edison also promised not to seek a rate hike to cover the cost of $40 million in upgrades performed after the blackout.


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