Cause of Con Ed plant boom: Breaker broke due to freezing rain

The Con Ed plant at E. 14th St. is well known for its nocturnal bangs and booms.  File photo
The Con Ed plant at E. 14th St. is well known for its nocturnal bangs and booms. File photo

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | East Village residents reported hearing a loud bang from the E. 14th St. Con Ed plant on Saturday evening, seeing a white flash in the sky and then experiencing a brief moment where electrical power dimmed.

The power plant is famous for its mysterious, booming nocturnal noises. During Superstorm Sandy, the substation was flooded, forcing the utility to shut off electrical power to Manhattan south of the 30s to protect the plant from sustaining further damage.

Speaking on Monday, Sidney Alvarez, a Con Ed spokesperson, said what happened Saturday night was caused by the weather’s effect on a breaker.

“Basically, in a nutshell, we had some equipment malfunction within our facility,” he told The Villager. “In a nutshell, a breaker popped — and the cause was freezing rain.”

The Fire Department responded but there was no fire, and there were no injuries, Alvarez reported.

The spokesperson didn’t disagree that East Villagers had likely heard a thunderous bang.

“I’m sure they would have heard something,” he said.

As for a white flash in the sky, he said, there was no information regarding that in an internal report he was reading from, but he didn’t deny that it could have happened.

“But there was no fire, no spark,” he noted.

Where exactly within the plant the breaker broke was unclear. The E. 14th St. Con Ed complex includes a steam-generating operation, plus two electrical substations.

Saturday’s breaker pop at the E. 14th St. plant was not connected to a power outage in Chelsea that occurred Friday, according to Con Ed. In that earlier incident, 730 customers on two blocks at W. 30th St. between Eighth and Ninth Aves. lost power from 7 a.m. until mid to late afternoon: Six hundred customers had power restored by 3 p.m., the rest by 5 p.m.

“They’re still investigating” the Chelsea incident, Alvarez said. “Basically, it was a feeder that went out in the Chelsea area. But it could have been weather related as well.”

A feeder is like “a giant cable,” he explained. So, The Villager asked, is a breaker like a giant circuit breaker that one has in a fuse box in their apartment? Not exactly, it’s a little more complicated than that, Alvarez said.