Heat waves are the worst. While I’m lucky to have an air-conditioner, I sometimes find myself staring at my small wall unit and imagining all the money blowing out of my wallet. According a report by WNYC, it will probably be a lot of money when I get my bill at the end of the month as Con Edison has claimed that the latest heat wave has caused an all-time record for electric usage. But while they boast of great service throughout the heat wave, locals are criticizing the utility company for throttling power without warning.
WNYC laid out the staggering output of power racing to juice our overtaxed A.C. units:
The company’s New York service area reached a peak of 13,214 megawatts at 2 p.m. on Friday That broke the previous all-time high of 13,189 megawatts set on July 22, 2011.
Massoud Amin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota, talked to WNYC about what these numbers mean.
“It’s immense,” Amin said when referring to the pressure put on New York’s power grid by the heat wave, “It is not only [an] intensive electricity demand but it also draws something called reactive power which is almost like the foam on top of a beer…When that many air conditioners are kicking in, it makes the system wobbly and harder to control.”
Amin also assessed the state of New York’s infrastructure and power grid.
“Con-Ed has done a great job of predicting the electricity peak demand this summer…Overall, they have done everything they can. They have put in $1.2 billion to prepare for the summer, into the infrastructure. But if we step back, and look at North America as a whole, the six Midwestern states are the most reliable part of the grid.”
Excluding extreme weather events, Amin stated that midwesterners experience approximately 92 minutes of outages per year, per customer while New Yorkers and New Englanders experience on average 214 minutes of outages a year, per customer. Amin attributed this to the aging of New York’s infrastructure. By comparison, Japan experiences four minutes of outages a year per customer.
While Amin’s appraisal of Con-Edison was rather forgiving, not everyone in the local community is pleased with their service.
Justin Brannan, a Bay Ridge small business owner, head of the Bay Ridge Democrats, and aide to Councilman Vincent Gentile, took to Facebook to blast Con Edison for being disingenuous with Brooklyn clients. He posted on July 19:
ConEd says they have been lowering the voltage in selected areas as needed since the heat wave began. However, they deny lowering voltage in our area (southwest Brooklyn). I don’t buy it. As a business owner, I can tell my giant AC unit isn’t working normally and I hear it from other business owners too. What ConEd doesn’t take into consideration is that when your HVAC systems are forced to run overtime on lower voltage, it can grind them down and burn them out.
Brannan elaborated on his statements in an e-mail to Bensonhurst Bean:
Last Friday I ran into no less than five different business owners who all told me they had lost equipment due to ConEd lowering voltage without warning. While I understand it was 8,000° outside last week – and I commend the hardworking men and women of UWUA Local 1-2 who worked in that sweltering broil to keep our city up and running during its first heat wave – ConEd management should admit they were reducing voltage in our area. Ultimately, when HVAC and refrigeration equipment burns out due to reduced voltage, it’s the small business owner who pays, not ConEd.
The economic loss from a refrigerator, freezer or HVAC unit burning out unexpectedly can be devastating to a small business. In most cases, the cost to replace the motor or the unit itself is trivial compared to the loss of business. Meanwhile, ConEd management praises itself for keeping the lights on during a heat wave. Isn’t that what New Yorkers pay them a premium to do?
Paul DiSpirito, owner of Lioni’s Fresh Mozzarella (7803 15th Avenue), is one of the business owners affected by the power throttling, saying he lost hundreds of dollars in product over the five-day stretch. Still, he thinks Con Edison served up a mixed bag.
“There’s good and bad. Yes, they kept the electricity on. They worked hard. My gripe is with the communication,” DiSpirito said. The owner of the legendary sandwich shop went on to say that he can’t fault the company with throttling power, but they need to do better to inform the community. As a member of Community Board 11 and a representative of his 30 or so neighbors on 78th Street, DiSpirito approached Con Edison about coming clean so they could prepare their homes and businesses for a brown-out. Instead, he said, the company snubbed them.
“Just let us know. Should our businesses be prepared for it? Should our mothers and sisters pack our bags and stay somewhere else? Is it going to be out for an hour?” asked DiSpirito. “Just let us know, that’s all we want. Where is all the respect that we’re supposed to have?”
DiSpirito also railed against Con Edison’s billing practices, saying that a discount ought to apply during brownouts since they pump lower power juice into his equipment but still bill for the same demand.
“On the second day of the heat wave until yesterday, all of our refrigerators are running at 80 percent,” he said. “So why are we getting billed at 100 percent electric if we’re only getting 80? Why are you still billing me at these high rates if I’m not getting the optimal power?”
“I’m sick of all the back patting that goes on. This is your job,” he added.
Did you notice reduced power during last week’s heat wave? Are you a small business owner the lost business, product or equipment because of it? Sound off below, or e-mail us at nberke [at] bensonhurstbean [dot] com.