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New York cities plagued by blackouts due to climate change, study finds

Published on May 2, 2024

Image of power lines above horizon with grey sky in Seattle.
Image Credit: Matthew Rutledge (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Written by Saul Elbein for The Hill.

Climate change is pushing some New York City neighborhoods into dozens of nearly daylong blackouts per year, a new study has found.

Large swaths of the state’s principal towns and cities faced repeated, protracted and dangerous weather-driven power outages between 2017 and 2020, according to findings published Wednesday in the Public Library of Science.

The risk to the grid is rising as more frequent extreme weather knocks down power lines, damages transformers and threatens the stability of the grid, said first author Nina Flores, a doctoral student at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

“Understanding what communities are most affected by these outages can help policymakers shore up the electrical system and prepare contingency plans,” she said.

Researchers found that several neighborhoods in Queens had more than 100 outages over the three-year period: 147 in Jamaica, 138 in Flushing and 104 in Richmond Hills.

Other cities had dozens of outages: 48 in Lewisboro, near the Connecticut state line; 42 in Flower Hill, on Long Island; 38 in Boston, south of Buffalo. Small towns in counties like Nassau, Hamilton and Westchester had 20-30 outages.

Average outages in New York City were dramatically longer than average outages in rural areas: about 20 hours in Staten Island or Queens, compared to 18 hours in other major cities in the state and about 12 hours in small towns.

Flooding and extreme levels of rain, hail or snow were the primary causes of outages, researchers found.

The scientists also noted that these outages are more than an inconvenience. If they coincide with heat waves or cold snaps, these outages can harm or kill residents — and at all times, they endanger the lives of people dependent on elevators or electric medical devices.

While the energy transition helps reduce climate risk over the long term, over the short term it can make these risks worse, said senior author Joan Casey of the University of Washington.

That’s because a move to electric energy — and away from climate warming but more weather-resilient home heating methods like gas — will “make more people reliant on electricity for heating, cooking, and transit,” she said.

Continue reading at The Hill.

Joan Casey of the University of Washington discusses the impact of energy transition on New York blackouts.
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