Tropical Storm Isaias wreaked havoc over 1000 miles of the eastern seaboard, Aug. 2-4, leaving a trail of destruction from Florida to Boston in its wake.
On Long Island, the storm caused much more damage than expected, especially in Nassau County. At one point, more than 440,000 of PSEG’s 1.2 million customers were without power.
In my driveway, a tree limb became a projectile, crushing the roof of my car. Across the street, a large branch took down power lines, while an uprooted tree rested on top of a family vehicle.
A few doors down, power lines and a telephone pole were strewn across a driveway. A block away, a large tree fell perfectly across the road, rendering it impassable. What a mess!
Since COVID-19 began, Long Islanders have been doing their best to work from home, but you can’t get much accomplished without power, especially without Wi-Fi.
The frustration from everyone I’ve spoken to about the loss of power is palpable, and most every elected official from village trustees to the Governor are railing against PSEG (and other utilities in other parts of the state) in bi-partisan unison.
There are unanimous calls for hearings, and everyone is placing blame on PSEG’s leadership, including LIPA with a chorus of criticism: “How could this happen again, after Hurricane Sandy?”
After Hurricane Sandy, there was talk of burying all power lines underground. Great idea, however, nobody wanted to pay costs ranging from roughly $1 million a mile in suburban neighborhoods to about $8 million a mile for 69,000-volt lines.
Our electric costs are already among the highest in the nation, so there was little appetite for proactive long-term investment to harden Long Island’s power infrastructure at a cost of multiple billions of dollars.
Telephone pole use started in the mid-19th century when Samuel Morse started connecting communities by wire to transmit messages via “Morse Code.”
Unfortunately, telephone pole technology hasn’t changed much in 170 years. In fact, any attempts to modernize telephone poles locally, by adding stronger and higher steel poles to Long Island communities, have been met with fierce opposition, because they were unsightly.
If installed, most higher steel telephone poles would have been above the tree line, and therefore impervious to Tropical Storm Isaias.
Once the storm was over, I hopped on my bicycle for a 15-mile ride, to see firsthand what PSEG was doing to remedy the situation.
On almost every block, there were power lines and telephone poles damaged or destroyed. But what I found was encouraging, because PSEG and tree trimming trucks were everywhere.
On one short stretch of road off Northern Boulevard, I counted two dozen vehicles, with every worker fully engaged in their job. PSEG called in 2,500 personnel before the storm to work round the clock to remedy the situation and had a total of 6000 workers in the field a few days later.
In comparison to its peers, PSEG is doing much better than New England power provider, Eversource. PSEG and Eversource have roughly the same number of customers, 1.2 million. Eversource had roughly 500,000 outages, and they’ve been much slower bringing accounts back online.
Some Long Island residents were without power for up to nine days. It’s a major inconvenience, but understandable considering the incredible amount of damage done by the storm.
Expecting power at 100 percent capacity within 24 hours of a storm like this, with aging transmission lines and old school telephone poles, is completely unrealistic.
That said, what PSEG can do immediately to improve customer relations is to update communication with their customers.
Accurate and regularly updated websites and apps, along with text messages with up to the moment information, if customers sign up for it, would be a good start. It’s frustrating to not to know when you can expect power to be turned back on.
Nothing will change going forward without a multi-billion-dollar investment to harden Long Island’s power infrastructure and major annual tree trimming.
Something similar will also happen in the near future to Long Island’s sewage treatment plants, which are also in woeful need of modernization. You can be assured politicians will be raving mad and pointing fingers when it does.
For now, as oceans warm and hurricanes become a more common occurrence, these types of power outages will continue with increasing frequency.
The 2020 Hurricane season has already broken records, and there will likely be more than 25 named storms this year. This has never happened before, and there is no system in place to name the 26th storm, or any after that.
Because upcoming power outages are inevitable, we all need to be good citizens, who regularly check on our elderly and infirm neighbors.
In the meantime, PSEG with admitted communication failures, performed a Herculean effort to restore power, while juggling adverse circumstances and antiquated delivery systems.
Unfortunately, as long as local politicians lack the political will to pay for major utility upgrades, Long Islanders will remain in the eye of the storm.