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Orange and Rockland’s Climate Study Names Flooding Top Future Climate Threat in Its Service Area

Devastating inland and coastal flooding events like the July 2023 thunderstorms that washed out major roads, toppled dozens of trees, ripped up Orange and Rockland Utilities (O&R) poles and wires and knocked out power to thousands of O&R customers, are expected to only get worse in the future due to climate change, meaning O&R must accelerate its investments to keep electric service reliable and resilient for customers, the company says in a study published today.

The flooding risk in O&R’s service area is compounded by the study’s prediction that climate change is likely to drive stronger and more frequent storms in the region, bringing heavier rainfall and coastal storm surge. Deluge rains could be more frequent and intense. Nor’easters could be less frequent, but more intense when they do occur.

The findings of the O&R study have significant implications for the company’s electric system. Here’s the study.

“This most recent study provides alarming evidence that climate change will affect the lives of O&R customers sooner and more severely than we previously thought,” said Robert Sanchez, O&R’s President and CEO. “That's why O&R is thinking more boldly about ways to strengthen the reliability of our electric delivery system. We are ushering in new sources of renewable energy and making sure that every O&R customer can share in the benefits of a more sustainable grid."

O&R’s study uses climate change projections developed by Columbia University and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The study, which O&R produced with support from ICF International, updates the projections in Con Edison’s first-of-its-kind 2019 study.

O&R will file the study with the New York State Public Service Commission today. The company later this year will file a Climate Change Resilience Plan identifying the measures it will take to further protect its equipment and its customers in Rockland, Orange and Sullivan counties from the rapidly rising flooding risk and other significant climate change impacts.

Climate change, which the new study calls “an existential and multi-faceted threat around the world” will affect O&R customers and equipment in other ways, the company said.

Flooding events are followed as O&R high climate risks closely by increasingly stifling heat waves, stronger destructive windstorms, and heavier damaging icing events, according to the O&R study.

  • The majority of the O&R system will see impacts due to rising temperatures, and those impacts will be amplified during intense heat waves. Increasing temperature variable will cause an increase in electric loading and equipment degradation. Higher temperatures can decrease the capacity of cable, substation transformers and other equipment, meaning O&R has to invest to replace that lost capacity. The heat can also cause the demand for power to exceed the system’s capacity.

  • Projections indicate a potential for higher wind speeds and stronger icing events in the future. Vegetation contact during high winds events represents a high risk for the overhead electric distribution system, especially when combined with heavier icing.

  • One study O&R referenced shows that by 2050 wind speeds from extreme events could produce wind gusts of up to 110 mph, a steep increase from the historical 80 mph maximum wind speeds from these events. Strong winds knock trees and branches onto overhead delivery equipment, causing customers to lose power.

  • The risk of ice forming on overhead power lines will increase. That impact, known as “radial icing,” can cause equipment failures and service outages.

  • Hurricanes could be more intense and more likely to track toward the Northeast.

Over the past 10 years since Superstorm Sandy ravaged the communities that O&R serves and knocked out power to more than 80 percent of its customers, O&R invested approximately $85 million to reduce the number, scope, damage, and duration of power outages caused by major storms.

Based on a comparative analysis O&R performed on restoration times for Superstorm Sandy and subsequent major storms, including August 2020’s Isaias, O&R estimates that the work completed through those programs has improved electric service restoration times by at least 30 percent.

O&R recognizes that disadvantaged communities have fewer alternatives during outages, meaning they suffer greater effects from flooding and heat. O&R will consider how climate change is affecting these areas and ensure that the company provides them continued resilient and reliable service.

O&R is proud to be supporting the state’s transition away from fossil fuels and toward a net-zero carbon economy while it ensures customers continue to receive safe, reliable energy.

The company has been fortifying its equipment for years, but climate change is prompting the company to accelerate the planning and execution of the upgrades.

While investing to fortify its infrastructure, the company is also supporting the region’s transition to a clean energy future. O&R works with customers to help them complete rooftop solar projects, adopt heat pumps and reduce their energy usage through efficiency.

About O&R

Orange and Rockland Utilities, Inc. (O&R), a wholly owned subsidiary of Consolidated Edison, Inc., one of the nation’s largest investor-owned energy companies, is a regulated utility. O&R provides electric service to approximately 300,000 customers in southeastern New York State (where its franchise name is Orange & Rockland) and northern New Jersey (where it’s Rockland Electric Company) and natural gas service to approximately 130,000 customers in New York.