Thursday, March 17, 2011

NYSEG Vs. Us Vs. NYSEG, Part 2 of 2

The canopy before new rains washed in.


At 8:00 AM the NYSEG was still promising power by 10:00 AM. Just two hours. It also informed that only 74 homes in the immediate area were without power, out of 3100 homes in all the Mechanicville Division “Most customers” were expected to have power back “sometime today.”

That was a pleasant surprise. Trucks must have come at night to fix so many lines. At least the ice was melting. It was between 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit outside, cold enough to be uncomfortable, but warm enough to work easier.

10:00 passed with no lights flickering. At 11:00, I called and got an actual operator. She claimed we were supposed to have it back by now and should expect it "any time now." I bided my time clearing up the deck. All the frozen food I’d bagged out there had warmed and spoiled.

I called again at noon. An automated voice told me "5:00 PM."

Mom was still enthused by the news of so many in the area getting power. Her back had improved from two days of rest I convinced her to get out of here for a little while. We drove to get a fresh hot lunch somewhere, picked up some non-perishables, and hit the local fire department. They had no updates about what was delaying NYSEG so badly; the worst of the storm’s wreckage had been cleared. The man I spoke to was operating on NYSEG’s phone updates.

As we drove home, I saw my first NYSEG trucks. Their drivers were all parked on the sides of the road, none active in work. It was like they were shutting down before nightfall. When we returned to a cold home for the fourth night now, I nearly asked to circle back and ask the truckers what was going on. But at that point I was too sick to drive, and Mom was too tired.

We settled in and dialed up. NYSEG’s automated voice informed us that 2,600 homes were now without power. A far cry from the "most" of the 3,100 that were supposed to expect it that morning. We might expect power by 12:00 PM.

I didn’t believe it. We’d seen utility workers locking up their vehicles for the night. They weren’t going to work in the frost. But what options did we have? Risk on roads that were now going to freeze over and pay for a hotel, only to have the power here come back tonight or tomorrow? Even if they’d lied about their intentions to give us back power on Monday and Tuesday, how much longer could NYSEG possibly take?

One of my neighbors bombarded NYSEG with calls. She pushed through until she found an operator and learned that NYSEG thought nobody lived on our roads in the winter. How our winter electricity bills would have born this out, I don't know. My neighbor insisted that yes, people did live here. She was calling from here. We’d made claims of outages from these houses. The operator promised to do something about it.

 Neighbor's property from my lawn, two fallen trees clearly visible.

THURSDAY, March 10

They did something about it. The next morning the automated message reported that 584 people in our immediate vicinity were without power. Not 74 like yesterday. No explanation, just that we were 584 out of 1,700 remaining homes without power.

The revelation that they’d learned these households were actually important made the change more suspicious. When I drove to pick up more water at noon, I didn't see any new damage. The same lines that had been down two days ago were still lying there, including those on the major roads.

I got a better look at the damage on my road. One wire dangled four feet from the ground, leading into the lawn of my next door neighbor. Two trees had fallen, taking out the phone and power lines. Everything was splayed in the mud and remaining snow. You couldn't miss it.

Photo of the dangling wire.

Flashing yellow lights passed our house at noon. One of my neighbors ran out to catch the truck. I arrived in time to hear him relaying an anecdote; five miles away, on a road with power, my neighbor had seen four trucks parked working on a single dark house. The NYSEG guy had no explanation, but was personable. We explained the situation in plain view of the dangling wire and house with downed trees. The NYSEG guy called local units. Cherrypickers pulled up to the opposite end of our road.

Before he departed, I asked the NYSEG man, "Are they going to restore power right here?"

"Oh yeah," he said.

I pointed at the ground under our feet. I'm not a master of communication under the best of circumstances.

"Right here? You're not leaving until you do?"

"Oh yeah."

Mom watched them saw bad tree limbs from our steps. I let them work and went back to reading. They drove off without coming down the road. Mom had only seen cherrypickers and assumed power trucks would be on the way. An hour later, that seemed less likely.

We called NYSEG and were told to expect it back at 3:00 PM.

At 3:00, we'd now have power back by 11:00. But how could those guys have done the work at the end of our road, knowing what was wrong down here, and not have fixed it? If they weren’t allowed to, why hadn’t anyone dispatched for guys that could?

We decided to get out. We hit the library, ate a rare meal out, and saw The King's Speech at a second-run theatre. We killed time, unable to stay out as late as 11:00, but killing a few dark hours before we returned home.

There were at least a dozen trucks, all dark and parked for the night along the roads. Some sat under the street lights, which were back on. My chest swelled as we circled around the lake. There were house lights all around it. Homes at the bottom of our hill wet lit.

"Can it be?' Mom asked.

We turned onto our road. Our house was pitch black.

I swore my way to the phone. The automated system said power had been restored to this residence at 1:00 PM.

1:00 PM? 1:00 PM today?

At 3:00 PM, two hours after that, the system had recognized we didn't have power, and we'd logged again that we didn't. Somehow, someone had missed that all the way into 8:00 PM at night.

We called again in disbelief and kept hitting buttons until we reached an operator. That conversation went poorly. Rather than describe it, allow me to impart advice: if someone ever calls your company and says your system has been lying to them for five straight nights about when power would be restored, and that they would have found a way to get out of here if you'd told them Monday morning that power likely wouldn't be back for that long, do not ever respond, "Those were only estimates." Even if “Monday afternoon” sounded like an estimate on Monday morning, come Thursday night that news will not stop the caller from screaming from their freezing living room.

FRIDAY, March 11

Friday morning's message said we'd have power back by 10 PM and that all customers were expected to have power back. “10:00 PM” now sounded like code for “not today.”

I dragged myself into the car and scouted around the lake for any trucks. I would flag them down and talk to the men on the ground myself. If I had to, I'd beg them to follow me. Except the only two I could find were empty.

Actually, there was no road work ahead.

They were parked on the same stretch of road, flashing lights on and cones set up. They were empty and nobody was around. I rolled down my window and hollered to no response. At 7:50 AM, nobody was on the scene. When I doubled back at 8:20, the trucks were still unattended. There was a third further up the road, also with no driver.

Took photos of the empty cabs, in case anyone later claimed they were on site.

Maybe there was a good explanation. At the moment, I was furious, and that anger kicked through my already exhausted system. By the time I got back, I was shaking and had trouble keeping my head up. I slumped in front of the propane heater. Mom went out on her own shift.

She found some trucks and said the guys on the ground were not in communication with NYSEG. They were not feeding headquarters information and had no idea where NYSEG was creating its restoration estimates from. They wouldn't give names, and I wouldn't publish them if I had them for risk of retaliation against them. None of them had heard all power would be back today; they all expected to be back tomorrow.

One truck followed her back. Mom and I drove down as chaperones to make sure they saw all the downed wires. We circled the area and saw dozens of trucks, not all working on our hill, but at least in our area. Within another half hour, a crew rumbled down our road. They had no explanation for why Thursday's crew hadn't fixed things.

They worked diligently for the better part of an hour. We stirred when they started to leave. Power was not back. We actually got in the car and followed them to the intersection.

"Aren't we done there?" asked one guy.

"Yeah," said his partner.

"No you're not," I insisted. “It’s still dark back there.”

"Aren't we done there?" the guy asked again.

"Yeah," the partner said again. "Just needs to energize for an hour."

At which point, I laughed.

An hour and a half later, the water boiler roared to life. Lights flipped on downstairs, in the basement, and one in my room. A reminder that the power was back.

Everything had spoiled. Frozen chicken, beef, meatballs - what we hadn't cooked had gone off in the thaw. It had been cold enough to chill us, but five hours at a time, warm enough to ruin food. We began cleaning up strewn plates and packing propane gear. We relished in the returning electric heat. It was just in time for the forecast. Tomorrow, it was supposed to snow.

UPDATE: On March 18th I received a call from NYSEG. The operator wanted to apologize for the inconvenience and said the company was working on improving its responses and communications. This was a week after power was restored, but a day after I posted the story about it. They had read this and dug up my number to respond. 


  1. Are you KIDDING me? Bastards! Good for you for physically chasing them down. I'd be trying to get a hold of the president of the company - you guys deserve an apology and a big break on your next hydro bill. Sorry to hear of your troubles. On the positive side, your area looks beautiful.

  2. What a horrible, exhausting ordeal for you...not to mention expensive! I had to laugh (only funny thing I found in the whole tragedy) about them not realizing anybody lived there. Surely you knew, John, that squirrels held their overwinter parties in your house, thereby driving up your electric bills.

  3. I'm glad you finally got your power back on and I can sympathise with your plight. Later you will find that a lot of those empty trucks came from neighboring states to lend aid and cash in on double and a half time pay. Still later you will see an increase in your utility bill, maybe a seperate line item on your bill, to recoup all that $.

    Sleep warm tonight!

  4. How exhausting that must have been. I'm glad you got the power back, but hopefully, the folks at the power company can be directed to your blog to see this failure in bright, vivid prose.

  5. Wow. Like you, FAR Manor is in the middle of nowhere and one of the last places to get power back on when something like that happens. I guess the power company here is smart enough to not give estimates.

    At least you survived it.

  6. Ohhh, I'm so so sorry for what you've been through! I got a grasp of your distress from your broken library communication...

    I'm very happy to know that everything is okay now, though. :)

  7. Awful, just awful. I'm so sorry you went through that. I agree, you do deserve an apology and a credit on your bill. Jeeesh. *shakes fist in direction of NYSEG*

  8. I cannot believe what you had to deal with, John. I'm so sorry. I would have flipped my lid. It would not have been pretty. Thank you for sharing your story. By the end I could imagine the joy you felt as the lights popped back to life.

  9. During past JohnCons I marveled at how off the beaten trail your house is and enjoyed being so far away from reality. Now I see how truly isolated your neighborhood is. Not only do the people you pay for power not recognize that you are not, as someone suggested, squirrels but it also appears that the area around your lake operates on a completely different seasonal schedule than the New York I am familiar with: my parents, who live about and hour and half south of you, had fifty plus degree weather that whole week.

  10. I empathize with your distress. However, since winter storms are the norm and you do live in a very treed and remote area, wouldn't it be prudent to invest in a generator that would at least provide minimal heat and light? We should take some responsibility for our own welfare when we know that leaving is not an option.

  11. I appreciate the many sympathetic comments. Things certainly reached a ludicrous point.

    In regards to Bev and Mr. Anonymous, I did hear several reports of drastically different weather. On excursion on Thursday took us somewhere that was at least ten degrees warmer and had much less ice and no flooding. We would have left the area entirely for the week had NYSEG given us honest or realistic estimates - which is the central problem. I'm not dodging responsibility by reporting NYSEG's bizarre handling of our area.

  12. Unfortunately, these are the times now - extra crews aren't as easy to get and as you noticed, those trucks were from somewhere else, as contractors (hired by NYSEG, evidently). It's a new era with the utilities, plus factor in required by law rest times and union rules and it adds at least some time loss into the equation. It's a very different era in utilities now - of course, everyone has to suffer for it and not much you can do, especially these ice storms. Wishing you a quiet weather summer....


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