Volume 75, Number 10 | July 27 - Aug. 2, 2005

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

From left, City Council candidates Gur Tsabar, Mildred Martinez, Claudia Flanagan, Michael Lopez, Reverend Joan Brightharp, Chris Papajohn and Roberto Caballero, Brightharp’s campaign manager and a district leader candidate, at City Hall press conference last week.

Con Ed to spend millions more to check for street voltage leaks

By Albert Amateau

Con Edison agreed last week to spend $10.6 million on programs to detect stray voltage in its electrical system as part of a settlement with the state Public Service Commission in connection with the electrocution death in January 2004 of Jodie Lane on E. 11th St.

The settlement, which was concluded July 20, calls for Con Edison to spend $9.6 million on stray-voltage detection using newly developed mobile detectors. Con Edison will also spend $1 million to develop electrical safety research programs in consultation with the Public Service Commission staff.

Moreover, the agreement commits Con Edison to conduct annual comprehensive surveys of the entire underground electrical system in each of the next three years. At the same time, the utility will conduct five-day, around-the-clock surveys following up to 30 major rainfalls or snowstorms that result in road-salting over the next three years.

Salt corrosion of electric cable insulation has been deemed a cause of stray voltage.

The settlement comes after Con Edison agreed at the end of last year to pay $6.2 million to the family of Jodie Lane, the Columbia graduate student and East Village resident electrocuted at the age of 30 by stray voltage while walking her dogs on Jan. 16 last year in front of 324 E. 11th St.

Lane’s father, Roger Lane, applauded the detection program settlement but suggested that the P.S.C. and the utility should have focused also on prevention of stray voltage and development of an immediate warning system. “Any number of factors can cause a stray voltage incident to occur immediately after an inspection,” he said.

Gunnar Hellekson, an East Village resident who founded the Jodie Lane Project last year to monitor electrical safety, said that although the settlement was large it was only a third of what the P.S.C. could have imposed.

The $10.6 million settlement is the largest in the state arising from an accidental death.

Con Edison issued a statement that the settlement further enhances the inspection and testing programs initiated following the Jodie Lane tragedy. “In that time we have developed new technology that detects stray voltage from all sources, not just our equipment,” the statement says. The settlement provides that Con Edison shareholders will pay for the labor and repair costs associated with the program — the utility will not recover these in rate increases.

Last year, the P.S.C. adopted rules requiring all utility companies in New York State to inspect nearly all of their equipment annually for stray voltage.

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