By Scott DiSavino
(Reuters) - New York energy company Consolidated Edison Inc reduced the power voltage in some Manhattan neighborhoods on Wednesday, in an action known as a brownout, as a brutal heat wave stressed the city's electric system for a third day.
This was the second voltage reduction during this week's heat wave, aimed at easing the load on the power grid to allow workers to fix heat-stressed equipment in the affected neighborhoods. The company had also turned down the voltage in a few Manhattan neighborhoods for several hours on Monday.
Temperatures in New York City hit 91 degrees Fahrenheit (33 Celsius) on Monday and 96 on Tuesday, and were expected to reach 96 again on Wednesday. Thunderstorms Wednesday night will cool temperatures, bringing them closer to normal levels in the 80s by Thursday, according to AccuWeather.com.
A spokesman at Con Edison, Allan Drury, said the demand for power on Wednesday was already higher than Tuesday's record for 2012 of 12,455 megawatts (MW). For Wednesday, Drury said the company forecast usage would peak at about 12,950 MW.
That's still below the company's all-time record of 13,189 MW set in July 2011. One megawatt powers about 1,000 homes.
Con Edison, which locked out its 8,000-member union workforce on July 1 in a contract dispute, said the voltage reductions had nothing to do with the labor tensions.
Like in earlier brownouts over the summer, Con Edison on Wednesday did not ask homes and businesses in the affected Sutton Place and Midtown East neighborhoods to turn off their air conditioners or other appliances.
The company, however, asked all of its 3.2 million customers in New York City and Westchester County to use energy wisely during the heat wave, the fourth to hit the city this summer.
Customers do not lose power in a voltage reduction, but incandescent lights, for example, glow dimmer, hot water heaters take longer to heat water and some motors run slower.
Con Edison said its system was working fine but about 2,700 customers were without power Wednesday afternoon, which is a small number of outages for a utility of its size.
The company and union, which have met several times over the past few weeks, were meeting again on Wednesday for another bargaining session.
DISPUTE GOES TO STATE
Late Tuesday, Con Edison filed a response to the union's complaint to the state Public Service Commission that called on the utility to end the lockout, charging the company was violating regulatory obligations by its actions in the labor dispute.
In its response, Con Edison said it would take the workers back if the union leadership agreed to give 72-hour notice of a strike to protect the safety of the system to provide customers uninterrupted service.
Con Edison also said the union complaint with the state regulators was misleading, factually inaccurate and had no basis in law.
The union said the same thing about Con Edison's response to the state regulators.
John Melia, a spokesman for the union said, "We were not going to strike. The deadline passed on July 1 and we were still at the bargaining table. They locked us out."
"This 72-hour notice thing is a pure public relations exercise by Con Edison," Melia said, noting the sides were still far apart.
"Things are going poorly. There has never been any closeness between our positions. There has not been any back and forth. Things have been static since we started negotiating in April when the official talks began," Melia said.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)