Before another big tropical storm can surge into the Consolidated Edison substations that were flooded by Hurricane Sandy, it will have to breach a mile of concrete walls and steel gates.
Con Edison, the electric utility that serves New York City and some northern suburbs, has been racing to meet a deadline of June 1 — the start of the hurricane season — to protect its network of equipment against flooding and storms. On Tuesday, its chief executive, Kevin Burke, showed off some of the improvements that are part of the company’s plan to spend $1 billion to harden the system.
“We have a lot more work to do,” Mr. Burke said, standing in a light drizzle at a large substation near the East River in Downtown Manhattan.
Little if any of that work will be financed by the federal government, he said, but the company hopes it will be paid by customers. Con Edison is asking state regulators to allow it to charge $1 billion in storm-related improvements to ratepayers over four years.
That request has already become contentious. The union representing most of Con Edison’s workers, Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America, has argued that reductions in the size of Con Edison’s work force left it unprepared before and after Hurricane Sandy struck at the end of October.
Last week, the union and the city government persuaded the state’s Public Service Commission that Con Edison should have to share its internal assessments of how it prepared for a hurricane and how it responded in the fall.
In a brief filed with the commission, Con Edison said it was “unaware of any facts or circumstances that call into question the ‘readiness’ of its system infrastructure immediately prior to Superstorm Sandy.”
Mr. Burke said he thought Con Edison’s employees “did a great job” in response to the hurricane. But that assessment has been controversial.
The company’s board of directors awarded more than $600,000 in special bonuses for their handling of Hurricane Sandy, other weather events and the company’s monthlong lockout of the members of Local 1-2 last summer.
In a brief interview, a veteran director described the executives’ performance as “exemplary.” But, after reading about the bonuses, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo demanded a review of how they had been paid. Mr. Burke and the other executive officers quickly returned the money.
On Tuesday, Mr. Burke would not go so far in praising the performance of his fellow employees. “I didn’t say it was excellent,” he said, adding instead that “they really did a good job.”
He pointed to a small brass disk placed about three feet up a wall to mark the highest level the water from the East River reached when the storm struck. The wall, about five feet high with two silver gates forged to withstand a battering from a foot-square log, protects a small prefabricated shed that houses relay switches. In the past several months, the company has used 1,000 cubic feet of concrete to build about a mile of walls around its equipment in 10 places in the city.
The rising water submerged critical equipment and caused a giant flash that was caught on video. The ensuing power failure left almost all of Manhattan below 14th Street without electricity for several days.
Sanjay K. Bose, a Con Edison vice president for central engineering, said the company still planned to elevate some equipment, like the relays in the substation at 14th Street. But he said doing so would be more costly and could not have been accomplished in time for the start of the hurricane season this weekend.