City cites flood threat to power plants


If you thought Hurricane Sandy was a horror show, you’ll be scared witless by the nightmare scenario outlined in a city report released today.

About 80 percent of New York City’s power comes from generating plants within the five boroughs — and all of them will become dangerously flood prone as climate change worsens, says the study presented by Mayor Bloomberg.

Right now, 53 percent of the plants are in a 100-year flood plain, and would be endangered by storm surges like those the city experienced during Hurricane Sandy last year. By the 2050s, 97 percent of the plants will be in a 100-year flood plain.

The report isn’t explicit about this, but anyone can do the math: Starting in the 2050s, a Sandy-size catastrophe could wipe out 80 percent of the city’s power supply. That’s a far bigger hit than New York took during Sandy, which cut power to about 25 percent of the city’s population.

Amazingly, the state does not require the city’s power plants — owned by several private companies — to be hardened against the threat of floods.

When Hurricane Sandy hit last October, Con Ed figuratively brought a knife to a gunfight. Its substations and other systems were designed to withstand storm surges of 11 feet. But Sandy’s surges were 14 feet — turning lower Manhattan into an electricity-free zone Jon Stewart mocked as “Little North Korea.”

If the power plants had been knocked out, we might as well have renamed the whole city Pyongyang.

But somehow, despite their location, Sandy didn’t damage the generators as badly as Con Ed’s systems. The power plants escaped the storm relatively unscathed.

As part of its current application with the state Public Service Commission for a rate increase, Con Ed is promising to harden its systems to protect against future storms.

But the power plants get less state government scrutiny than Con Ed. The city’s solution is to “convene plant owners, utilities, and regulators to work together to prioritize, plan, and budget for the hardening of key in-city assets.” It also wants the state to require that new generators be prepared for the kind of flooding that happens once every 500 years.

Read more in the city’s report:  A Stronger, More Resilient New York — Chapter 6


About Bill Sanderson

I'm a New York-based journalist, and a former reporter at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, the Bergen Record in New Jersey, and the New York Post. My work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, and Politico New York. Twitter: @wpsanderson.
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