Monday, March 4, 2024

PHALON’S FILE: Keeping Us in the Dark

Jersey Central Power & Light, our friendly neighborhood electric utility, has just completed a survey of 400 miles of high voltage lines throughout its service area, which includes North Warren.

It’s part of an ongoing project of preventive maintenance to head off power failures before they happen.

JCP&L is spending $34 million this year to trim trees along more than 3,000 miles of transmission lines. Because you can never predict when or why unforeseen circumstances might pull the plug. Anybody who lives on those Knowlton roads where the power frequently shuts down for no apparent reason might appreciate that.

Sometimes, though, the power goes poof for reasons best described as bizarre.

Did you hear about the fish that brought a power outage across a swath of Central Jersey earlier this month?

No, it was not a big fish that chomped on an underwater power line. This fish did cut the power from the top of the pole. JCP&L said the fish was found entwined in the inner works of a transformer.

How does a fish get to the top of a utility pole?

Did it jump?

JCP&L theorized that the fish was dropped by a bird flying overhead. Happens all the time.

And I happen to know what really caused the blackout of 1977. It was Tony’s air conditioner. With the flip of a switch, Tony brought down the entire Con Ed electric grid and left the City of New York without power.

I had just graduated high school earlier that summer The They told us back then that Mother Nature was to blame for the outages, which they said were caused by lightning strikes in the Hudson Valley, which led to overloads that caused circuit breakers to trip and so forth.

But I know what really caused it. My friend Tony.

Tony had just moved to Brooklyn that spring for a job that summer. He came home from work to his Park Slope apartment the evening of July 13 just after 9:30. It was a hot, sweltering night with vicious thunderstorms rolling through. The drain on the power system was enormous, setting records.

First thing Tony did when he entered his abode was turn on his air conditioner. Just at that second the lights snapped off in his apartment. Damn. Tony checked the fuse box, but all was fine.

Then he looked outside and saw the neighborhood was dark.

What had he done?

His AC had caused the whole street to go dark. Is that possible?

Of course, Tony didn’t realize at that moment the scope of the chaos he had wrought. It wasn’t until neighbors started gathering on the sidewalk with warming beer and transistor radios that they learned what was going on.

New York City and its surrounding environs had been plunged into darkness, then anarchy. And Tony had to live with what he had caused. He had drawn that last little bit of electricity—the last microwatt—that brought down the entire Con Ed system.

So, if I can believe Tony could bring down the power to New York City, I suppose I can accept that a fish darkened Sayerville.

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.