LARCHMONT, N.Y. (AP) -- Con Edison's chief executive said Friday that the company is installing hundreds of so-called smart switches that can limit the number of electric customers affected when a tree takes down a power line.
Chairman and CEO Kevin Burke said the switches are part of a $1 billion program to minimize the kind of power failures that occurred during Superstorm Sandy last year.
Then he watched as a pair of linemen installed one of the huge devices above a quiet Larchmont street, hoisting it about 30 feet and bolting it onto a utility pole while surrounded by live wires.
Burke said the switch allows the company to divide a service area into two or more sections and isolate part of it.
"So if there are 900 customers in a loop, in the past, 900 customers would be out," if a wire came down, Burke said. "Now it might be just 450."
He said the switches, about 4 feet by 4 feet by 6 feet, would be installed in heavily treed areas of New York City and Westchester County.
He said at least 1.1 million of the company's 3.3 million customers lost power in the storm. Tens of thousands were without electricity for more than 10 days.
Burke said Con Ed's biggest previous biggest power failure affected 200,000 customers. He expressed fear that weather was becoming "more violent and erratic."
He said that in addition to the new switches, Con Ed was burying some wires and strengthening poles and cables.
He also showed reporters a breakaway device for the connection between a homeowner's individual line and the utility pole. It's designed so that if a tree falls on the line, the line will come off at the pole rather than at the side of the house.
That would mean the wire is dead rather than live, and that when the homeowner is reconnected no repairs will be necessary, Burke said.
He said 1,000 breakaway devices would be installed this year.
Burke also said the company plans to be better about communicating with customers and local officials. Larchmont Mayor Anne McAndrews, who stopped by the Con Ed news conference, said she has already seen an improvement.