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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Con Ed's storm plan went out with a bang. (Yesterday's planning won't stop tomorrow's storms)

Technically speaking, this time, you can't fault Con Ed.

The electrical utility planned for Hurricane Sandy and the storm surge of water it would cause. They preemptively cut power to areas of the city whose power lines were likely to be flooded (as detailed in this article from Bloomberg Businessweek News) and they had previous experience with extreme storms most recently last year's Hurricane Irene which cause a 9.5 foot increase in the water level near the substation. The utility was prepared to stop a storm surge of 12 feet reasonable thinking when considering that since 1821 the highest storm surge had been 12.5 feet.

But we clearly live in a climate changed world. What was isn't what's likely to be. The storm surge on Monday night rose to 14 feet.

When flood waters (not very deep once it crested and flooded through the streets, but deep enough) made it through the grates and into the 14th Street Con Ed Sub-Station that's when all the planning went down the drain.

The Bloomberg article said it best,
"It's like what happened at the Fukushima nuclear complex in Japan last year — without the radiation."
As you should expect as a reader of this blog, I have a personal story about that sub-station; a relative worked there back in the day and took me by once when he had to drop off some gear. I won't wax on as I usually do, although there is a great story about cats and birds to be told, the point is there is an unbelievable amount of infrastructure on that site. Volatile vital energy infrastructure. That we need to live on in this city. Ask anybody who lives on a respirator or the much less inconvenienced but still frustrated people hanging on street corners in midtown trying to get a cell signal.

I hope the Governor's remarks about updating New York City's ability to withstand the climate we live in today and tomorrow is sincere. And most important that we the people get why we need to pay up to improve and prevent the situations.

Btw if you haven't seen it here comes the boom(starting from 22 seconds in), from the 14th Street Con Ed Sub-Station:

If you want to know why shutting power down is the best bet and why electrical power stations go boom when exposed to salt water (and you couldn't be bothered to read the linked article, here's your crib-note from the same article)

"When live electric equipment is inundated with salt water, electricity escapes every which way, sending sparks flying and damaging equipment. "You see a huge blast just from the short circuit," says Arshad Mansoor, senior vice president for research and development at the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry-funded research group."
So my two cents. Lets look at the cost of repairing the damage from this storm, plus the lost wages and tax revenue, and productivity (and lives directly attributable if any) project that forward based on the frequency and intensity of storms in the last 10-20 years and see if that comes close to what it cost to make long term fixes. One way or another we're gonna pay for this better it be less now vs more later.

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