November 11, 2012

Editorial: Harsh words for utilities


---- — Everybody, from the governor on down, seems to be upset with the state’s utilities, citing poor performance in the wake of Sandy’s marauding through the Northeast. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has even threatened to revoke the monopolistic franchise for the power companies as thousands remained without power in the middle of last week, while facing the threat of a second potent storm.

It seems difficult to assess whatever successes or failures are due to the utility companies. Certainly, the utilities are not slothful. They began assailing the problem of lost power the minute hurricane winds, floods and clogged roadways allowed.

But, days after the storm, Cuomo was distressed that 400,000 New Yorkers still had not had their power restored. Exacerbating the problem was a sudden drop in temperatures into the low 20s, in places, and the arrival of a nor’easter that posed the prospect of not only interrupting ongoing work but undoing some that had already been completed.

The North Country was spared Sandy’s venom, but we are not without empathy. Anyone who was around in 1998 can remember the Ice Storm that year and the havoc it imposed. Februarys in this frigid region are no time to be bereft of electricity.

Friends, neighbors, relatives and rescue workers in 1998 reacted as quickly and valiantly as possible to bring life-saving warmth to those without, but it was a terrifying time for many, many people.

Tuesday’s Albany Times-Union quoted Cuomo as saying, “These utilities … were not created in the Bible. They aren’t in the Old Testament and they aren’t in the New Testament. … These are not God-given monopolies.”

Harsh words. We can only hope they are the product of frustration born of a problem of monstrous proportions and imposing unavoidable delays in getting to all of those 400,000 customers still left.

It’s hard to believe the utilities would have any other priority than restoring power to desperate customers as quickly as the landscape and staffing would allow.

Most of the flailing customers were on Long Island, New York City and Westchester County — not exactly the center of desperation, in most cases.

Cuomo even chided the utilities for providing updates on scheduled work on their websites, since the customers had no power and, presumably, no access to the information.

Rouses Point, Lake Placid, Tupper Lake and Plattsburgh, of course, have their own municipal utility systems and rarely experience long-term power outages. The private utilities in this region — New York State Electric & Gas and National Grid — usually react responsibly and responsively to emergencies of any kind. We have often applauded them not only for their attentiveness but for their bravery under horrible working conditions.

We tip our hat to the governor for making sure all his constituents are attended to as soon as is humanly possible. We hope his remarks are the by-products of impatience and are not truly deserved by these servants of the public.