Photo Courtesy of Con Edison
According to Con Edison, an electrical fault occurred Thursday night at the Astoria East Substation located at 20th Avenue and 32nd Street.
By Michael V. Cusenza
A major electrical failure Thursday night at a Con Edison substation in Astoria that ignited a brilliant, azure lighting display and frightened residents as far away as New Jersey should be investigated by the State Public Service Commission, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Friday.
“The electrical failure in Queens was more dramatic than destructive but it understandably raised community concerns about the safety of the substation and Con Edison’s equipment,” the governor added. “That’s why I am asking the Public Service Commission to work together with Con Ed to investigate the electrical failure and identify the root cause to help ensure an incident like this never happens again.”
According to Con Ed, Thursday night at 9:12 p.m., “an electrical fault on a section of 138,000-volt equipment in one of our Astoria substations caused a transmission disturbance and a sustained electrical arc flash, creating the blue light people witnessed. The equipment that malfunctioned is associated with voltage monitoring within the substation. There were no serious injuries, although one employee at the substation reported eye irritation associated with the arc flash. The transmission disturbance caused lights to flicker throughout much of our service area, and several facilities, including LaGuardia Airport, Rikers Island, and some area hospitals, reported that their electrical systems switched to backup generation during the event. They were back on Con Edison power late last night. Service on the subway system’s 7 line in Queens was also impacted for about 30 minutes while track equipment was reset. Some other customer electrical equipment also shut off and had to be reset. We apologize for the disruption to customers and will continue to investigate the root cause of the incident.”
The utility also noted that normally when there is an electrical fault, a device similar to a circuit-breaker intervenes and quickly cuts off power to the affected equipment. In this incident, the device did not intervene and the electricity kept cycling through, causing the electrical flash. The affected equipment was isolated to a single section within the substation, the company said.
The State deployed Department of Environmental Conservation spill response staff to the scene at 20th Avenue and 32nd Street and confirmed that the small amount of material spilled was contained onsite and no impacts to the environment were observed. Con Edison has reported that the spill has been cleaned up.
Cuomo on Friday took some time to inject levity into the situation.
“There was speculation, when people saw the blue light, as to what it might be. I’m a Queens boy originally, born and bred. People from Queens tend to be a little suspicious. There were some rumors that maybe it was an alien invasion, an alien life, UFO landing. And sometimes we can be skeptical of government bureaucracies. I saw the equipment, I saw the damage, I saw what was burned, and what it was is what is. It has been represented to be an electrical malfunction,” the governor said. “We did find one piece of evidence that is a little peculiar. This was on the site, which raised some questions, but I’m told it’s a piece of safety equipment for workers, which I believe. But there is no proof to the alien invasion or alien UFO landing whatsoever.”