Glen Ridge residents complain of persistent power outages

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Rick Deutsch, left, and Henry Passapera show what they say are essential for Lorraine Street homes: electric generators.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — According to two Lorraine Street residents — and their account is supported by neighbors — the area where they live is beleaguered by electric power failures that seem to occur without rhyme or reason. 

The residents are Henry Passapera and Rick Deutsch, and they have been borough residents since 1983 and 2011, respectively. They said, in a recent interview, that the advice given to anyone moving into their neighborhood is this: If you do not own an electric generator, buy one, because you will need it. According to Passapera, the power failure problem has become so frustrating that he formed a community committee to figure out a solution.

“Two weeks ago, on a Saturday, it happened twice,” Passapera said of the failures. “Everyone was furious. I handed out 100 flyers.”

The thoroughfares affected, he said, are in the same Public Service Electric and Gas power grid: Lorraine and Madison streets; Astor Place; and Maolis, Hawthorne and Midland avenues.

“There’s something about our power grid that leaves us vulnerable,” Deutsch said.

He could not fathom the causes for the failures but reasoned it was not weather related.

“There will be a little sprinkle of rain and a light breeze, and there’ll be an outage,” Deutsch said. “Sometimes the blackouts can be 12 hours or one and a half days.”

“But one block away,” Passapera said, “on the other side of Midland Avenue, there are no power outages.”

“You can map the houses affected just by walking the area,” Deutsch said.

Passapera had attended a borough council meeting the previous week to voice his concern and was puzzled, he said, that Mayor Stuart Patrick was unaware of the problem. Patrick asked Passapera why residents had not notified him sooner. Borough administrator Michael Zichelli took note and promised to follow up.

“I haven’t assessed it,” Deutsch continued, “but if you look at hundreds of homes, a lot of people would say it’s the No. 1 quality-of-life issue. The power goes out and you come outside your house, and an hour and a half later, the roar of generators is deafening.”

Deutsch did say that PSE&G will come to the area, but their remedy is a “Band-Aid.”

According to both men, the power company believes the ultimate culprit is backyard tree branches through which its power lines course. Over time, the growing branches, moving in the wind, exert increasing pressure on aging power lines. The PSE&G solution, according to Passapera and Deutsch, would be to have Glen Ridge backyard power lines moved to the street. But both residents appreciate having gas lamps without utility poles as a quality-of-life issue they would not wish to relinquish. 

An Adams Place resident also affected by the power outages, Arvind Basra, said it was only speculation, but he figured the problem was because the infrastructure was lagging behind residents’ demands.

“There’s a ton of electric cars in this neighborhood,” he said. “And every year, when the houses are sold and turned over, there are massive renovations and electrical upgrades.”

“For most of us, the power failures are an inconvenience,” Deutsch said. “But there are people with cancer medicine in the refrigerator that (has) to be kept at a certain temperature.”

On Hawthorne Street, Judith Camacho, whose home is also affected, said her husband, David, a cancer patient, requires Acthar, a medicine requiring refrigeration. 

“We have to take it out an hour before he injects it,” she said. “It’s a little bottle and it costs $40,000. It’s one of the most expensive medicines.”

Camacho said when there is a power failure, she will put the medicine in her freezer or cross the street to Freeman Gardens, where there is electricity; she is on the garden board and has keys to the facility and its refrigerator.

In an Oct. 26, email, provided by Zichelli to The Glen Ridge Paper, the number of power failures over the last two years, on Lorraine and Madison streets, was six. They ranged in duration from 25 minutes, on Sept. 2, 2021, to 17 hours, 30 minutes, on Oct. 1, 2022.

Zichelli said of the six power failures, the causes of five were located in residential backyards, which increased repair times. He said PSE&G was scheduled to perform circuit maintenance on its Toney Brook 4003 circuit, which services Lorraine and Madison streets, early next year, at which time PSE&G, if made aware, will be able to “clear any potential hazards that may result in an electrical fault.”