By Katie Honan
Consolidated Edison Inc. executives faced a barrage of questions from New York city council members during a hearing Wednesday over a string of summertime power outages that left thousands of customers in the dark.
During the four-hour hearing, the executives defended the utility's service while also vowing to improve its power grid to avoid future blackouts.
In a July 13 outage, the west side of Manhattan lost electricity for several hours, stranding people in elevators and subway stations. Con Edison, which powers most of the city, attributed the outage to a faulty cable. Days later, during a heat wave with temperatures near 100 degrees, neighborhoods in southeast Brooklyn also lost power as the company's grid hit record demand.
"The events in southeast Brooklyn and on the West Side of Manhattan happened because -- despite our strategic, target investments -- our system is not perfect," David DeSanti, a vice president at Con Edison, said at the hearing.
Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents parts of Manhattan that were without power, said during the hearing that the utility failed its customers and didn't seem apologetic enough about the outages. He asked Con Edison executives about their improvement plans and an anticipated coming rate increase. The utility put in for the proposed increase in January. If approved, the rate rise would go into effect at the beginning of 2020.
"There seems to be a total mismatch potentially of the perception of yourself and the perception the public has of you," Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, said.
The council speaker also grilled the utility for information on which neighborhoods had the oldest infrastructure and how often it tested the cables involved in running the backup system to its power network, including the one in Manhattan that failed.
A Con Edison official later said that the utility was up-to-date with inspections for the cable that failed.
The utility has plans to upgrade parts of its system, but the outages this summer weren't the result of a failing or aging infrastructure, the company's executives said at the hearing. The company has spent more than $200 million on the grid in southeast Brooklyn over the past decade and invested more than $1.5 billion each year across the city since 2015, executives said.
The summer outages prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, to each order investigations into the utility. They also questioned whether the utility should be replaced. Mr. de Blasio said he "can't trust" Con Edison.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat who also attended the hearing, said the company didn't communicate well during the outages and was critical of the proposed rate increase.
"I think people have a right to ask, if we're paying more money, what exactly are we getting," he said.
Write to Katie Honan at Katie.Honan@wsj.com
Corrections & Amplifications
This article was corrected at 6:22 p.m. ET to reflect the proper last name of David DeSanti. The original version of this article incorrectly spelled it David Disanti.