EAST VILLAGE — Con Edison’s East 14th Street station — where a massive explosion knocked out power to much of Lower Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy last October — has received a major overhaul to keep it safe from future storms, officials said on a tour of the facility Tuesday.
In advance of the next hurricane season, which starts in June, the 14th Street and Avenue D complex got flood walls, targeted "smart" switches and elevated platforms to protect equipment, reduce power outages and speed up restoration of services after storms.
“This is just the beginning, but…we knew we needed to have some measures in place going into the next hurricane season,” said Kevin Burke, chairman and CEO of Con Edison.
The improvements at the 14th Street Con Ed station, which flooded with 3 feet of water during the storm, are just part of the utility's four-year, $1.2 billion plan to fortify its infrastructure across the city. The hurricane knocked out power to a third of Con Ed's customers in the five boroughs, representatives said.
Over the past few months, Con Ed has installed more than a mile of concrete walls at substations throughout the city to prevent floods from damaging equipment.
At the 14th Street complex, the company built a 5-foot-tall concrete wall around a building containing relays, which are electrically operated switches used to control circuits.
Con Ed also raised its transformers, switchgears and reactors off the ground by 4.5 feet, putting them on elevated platforms to protect them from future flooding.
The Oct. 29 explosion of the transformer at the 14th Street complex was caused by water traveling up conduits, or pipes containing wires, to the control cabinet, said Vic Faster, an area manager at the Con Ed station.
To protect the 183 conduits that run through the complex, the company injected the conduits with rubberized foam to make sure they are sealed tight against water.
Con Ed also plans to install “smart” switches underground, so that power outages can be isolated to specific areas, instead of affecting all of Downtown, as they did during Sandy, Burke explained.
“Power for Downtown Manhattan was shut down [during Hurricane Sandy] because we knew water was going to get into the streets…we knew water was going to get into our equipment,” Burke said. “[With the new smart switches], we’ll be able to keep some customers in service, hopefully, if the hurricane comes to the same point.”
To protect against strong winds, Con Ed is also replacing utility poles throughout the city with ones that are 15 percent stronger and able to withstand gusts of up to 110 miles per hour.
“Sandy caused incredible damage to our energy delivery systems, disrupting the lives of millions of New Yorkers,” Burke said in a statement.
“While we recognize that these weather events represent a ‘new normal,’ our goal through our investments is to lessen the hardships that violent weather causes for our customers.”