It's day 12 since Hurricane Sandy hit, and PSEG has hit a milestone. The company says it has restored electricity to 98 percent of their customers in their service area, and they're hoping to make it 100 percent by Saturday.
Ralph LaRossa, president and chief operating officer of the company, said in a media update conference call -- the last he hopes he'll be having to discuss Hurricane Sandy and the nor'easter that tore through the area Wednesday -- that even with service restoration, the work isn't over yet.
He gave a big thanks to the 4,500 linemen who poured into New Jersey from all over the country to supplement PSEG's own crews. He spoke to one lineman yesterday, who said he had been working 16 hours a day since even before the hurricane hit to do prep work. "Things are tough at home. His family has been without power through all this. They've been living in the basement with their woodburning stove," LaRossa said.
"With all the sacrifices they've gone through, they're the real heroes out there."
Meanwhile, most of Mercer and Middlesex Counties have had their power restored. Ninety-five percent of Middlesex County customers have power, with 12,000 still waiting for service; in Mercer County, 99 percent have electricity, and 1,500 are without it.
A substation in the Sewaren section of Woodbridge crashed yesterday, blowing the power for customers in portions of Woodbridge Proper, Port Reading, Carteret, Linden, Metuchen, Union, Elizabeth, Kenilworth, Perth Amboy, Roselle, Roselle Park, Westfield, Clark, Edison, and Rahway.
While 20,000 of those who lost their service got it back by 8 p.m. Thursday, there were still some who hadn't had their electricity restored.
LaRossa was aware of the circuit issues that turned off the juice to homeowners who had had their service restored since Sandy, but lost it again.
"We're going to have crews in that area. We'll see big progress" in restoring service, he said.
Another issue LaRossa addressed was the communication between the utility company and mayors in the service area where power was lost.
"The mayor issue has been the biggest challenge from a communications standpoint," LaRossa said. "Many of them are unpaid and want to help out their neighbors. The information we provide may be accurate when we give it to them, but maybe later in the day they talk to a crew they see and get different information.
"It's impossible for us to be 'real-time' for 236 municipalities across the state."
Part of the reason for the lack of up-to-date information is because none of the out-of-state linemen have the "smart" equipment PSEG employees use. They process all of their updates with written reports that have to be entered into the system at the end of the workday; work that they do simply doesn't show up until it's inputed into the system, LaRossa said.
"We'll try to work on the technology," he added.
The PSEG president said he still felt for the one percent of the company's customers who were still without power.
"There is no way I can prevent everything from happening. Mother Nature certainly dealt us a bad hand in the region," LaRossa said of the double whammy of Hurricane Sandy and Nor'easter Athena coming back-to-back.
When Sandy came through the region he said they'd have service back to customers by Nov. 9, a promise he said they put off only by a day because of the problems caused by the unanticipated winter storm on Wednesday.
For the one percent without power, LaRossa said, "I certainly feel bad. But I know my kids would be real happy getting a ninety-nine in school."