New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it keeps turning out the lights. A stretch of Manhattan’s West Side went dark on July 13, with 73,000 customers—including Broadway theaters—in the dark for three hours. A smaller number were without juice for even longer, about five hours. A week later, Brooklyn and Queens got their turn, with about 46,000 people left in the dark for hours on July 21.
Each outage had its immediate cause: a transformer fire in Manhattan and high electricity use due to the heat wave in the boroughs. But the real cause goes back to lax oversight of the city’s utility, Con Edison, which began back in the Carter administration.
So says Matt Stoller—a fierce critic of both monopolistic corporate America and corrupt government, the rare pundit who sets heads nodding on both the right and the left. “[T]he short-term financialized mentality that is now pervasive among American policymakers and corporate leaders weakened the grid,” he writes in the latest edition of his firebrand newsletter Big. He compares New York City’s woes to the corruption and demands of investors that wrecked Puerto Rico’s electric grid.
With lax oversight, Con Ed has prioritized paying out dividends over building resilience, writes Stoller. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was the breaking point, he says, citing as evidence a post-Sandy report by the Utility Workers Union of America pointing to the deficiencies:
Our understanding is that ConEd ran out of basic supplies, such as utility ladders, which are obviously of considerable importance in a massive restoration effort. Our understanding is that in some instances, parts were ordered that did not “work” on the ConEd system, including entire truckloads of utility transformers, and that there is no ability to return them because of their specialized nature.
That prompts another damning comparison—to crumbling aerospace contractor Boeing (another subject of Stoller’s ire). “The union’s motivations are also consistent with what the engineers at Boeing wanted, which was to do their job with integrity,” writes Stoller, whose book Goliath comes out in October.