By David B. Caruso
NEW YORK, N.Y. (AP) – A major push is on to move New York City’s electrical infrastructure to higher ground or upper floors after Superstorm Sandy sent seawater pouring into low-lying substations and skyscraper basements and plunged half of Manhattan into darkness for four days.
The effort, likely to be enormously costly, will center partly on two old weaknesses brought into sharp relief by the surge: power distribution stations built just yards from the water’s edge, and electrical components located in vulnerable basements.
Ever since Thomas Edison built the world’s first central power station in a Manhattan seaport district in 1882, central elements of the island’s electrical infrastructure have been located along the waterfront. Ten of Con Edison’s 101 transmission and distribution substations sit in flood zones.
And in skyscrapers built within a fisherman’s cast of the sea, transformers, circuit panels and other electrical components are almost always in the basement, where they are sitting ducks in any flood. About 250 big buildings suffered enough damage to their basement-level electrical systems during the storm to knock the power out for weeks.
Moving all that equipment isn’t going to be cheap. Consolidated Edison, the city’s main power utility, made a preliminary estimate that it would cost $800 million to rebuild its flood-zone substations in a way that would put sensitive equipment out of the water’s reach in a storm like Sandy.
Reconfiguring the city’s high-rises to move electrical equipment out of vulnerable basement areas will cost many millions of dollars more, and that’s just in construction costs. Building owners will also lose large amounts of revenue when rentable floors are converted into mechanical space.
In the past, maybe all of those costs would have been considered prohibitive, but Sandy – coming on top of years of warnings about global warming and the threat of rising seas – changed a lot of minds.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently asked Congress for $2.7 billion to help pay for statewide improvements in energy infrastructure.
Numerous skyscraper owners in the financial district and other waterfront areas have already begun moving as much electrical infrastructure as they can out of basements to avoid a repeat of the damage, said Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York. “It’s not even a question anymore,” he said.1 2 3 next >>