New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Dec. 28 called for the New York State Public Service Commission to investigate the cause behind a major electrical failure at a Con Edison substation in Astoria, Queens, shortly after 9 p.m., on Dec. 27, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
The incident did not cause any significant injuries or apparently result in damage to personal property, but it did raise questions about the safety of the substation and Con Edison equipment, while also disrupting operations at LaGuardia Airport, the No. 7 subway line of the MTA, and the city’s prison system at Rikers Island, which had to switch to backup generators, the statement added.
“The electrical failure in Queens was more dramatic than destructive but it understandably raised community concerns about the safety of the substation and Con Edison’s equipment,” Cuomo said in the statement. “That’s why I am asking the Public Service Commission to work together with Con Ed to investigate the electrical failure and identify the root cause to help ensure an incident like this never happens again.”
The state also deployed Department of Environmental Conservation spill response staff to the scene and confirmed that the small amount of material spilled was contained onsite and no impacts to the environment were observed, the statement noted, adding that Con Edison has reported that the spill has been cleaned up.
"Ensuring public safety is job number one for Con Edison and all utilities operating in New York State," Commission Chair John B. Rhodes said in the statement. "Our team of safety experts will commence an immediate investigation of what happened at the substation to help ensure that a repeat does not occur. If the company failed to adhere to our safety standards or otherwise adequately perform its obligations, we will commence a proceeding to determine whether further action is warranted."
In a separate Dec. 28 statement, Con Edison said that at 9:12 p.m., on Dec. 27, an electrical fault on a section of 138-kV equipment in one of its Astoria substations caused a transmission disturbance and a sustained electrical arc flash, creating the blue light people witnessed. The equipment that malfunctioned is associated with voltage monitoring within the substation, the company said, adding that there were no serious injuries, although one employee at the substation reported eye irritation associated with the arc flash.
The transmission disturbance caused lights to flicker throughout much of the company’s service area, and several facilities – including LaGuardia Airport, Rikers Island, and some area hospitals – reported that their electrical systems switched to backup generation during the event, Con Edison said, adding, “They were back on Con Edison power late last night.”
Service on the subway system’s 7 line in Queens was also impacted for about 30 minutes while track equipment was reset, the company said, adding that some other customer electrical equipment also shut off and had to be reset.
“We apologize for the disruption to customers and will continue to investigate the root cause of the incident,” Con Edison said.
In response to the governor’s statement, Con Edison spokesperson Allan Drury told TransmissionHub on Jan. 2, “We are examining the equipment thoroughly to determine the cause of the failure and will share our findings with the New York State Department of Public Service and the public.”
Article amended at 12:45 p.m., EST, on Jan. 3, 2019, to clarify that according to the spokesperson, the company’s findings will be shared with the New York State Department of Public Service.