N.Y. Today: Why home offices stress the power grid

What you need to know for Wednesday.

Good morning. It's Wednesday. Can the electrical system in New York City handle the heat wave? We'll check on why the answer is a bit different than it was before the pandemic. We'll also look at why the Manhattan district attorney dropped a murder charge against a bodega clerk who stabbed an attacker to death.

Yana Paskova for The New York Times

"These next few days are a big test," Laurie Wheelock, the interim executive director of the Public Utility Law Project, an advocacy group, said when I asked if New York City was less vulnerable to a major blackout during this heat wave than it was before the pandemic.

I worded the question that way because the pandemic has changed energy consumption patterns. Fewer people are going to offices in Midtown Manhattan — only 8 percent of those who work for private employers are at their desks five days a week, according to a survey in May. Mayor Eric Adams has been a vocal proponent of bringing workers back to the office, but many continue to work remotely. And some companies have relocated, putting their offices closer to where their employees live.

The upshot is that New Yorkers have shifted when and where they use electricity. Air conditioners in some residential neighborhoods now hum during working hours. Before the pandemic, they would generally have been turned off when their owners left for the office. Computers, too, are on all day in home offices.

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"The heat and the demand create stress on the system, so certainly there would be additional stress when there are more people at home as opposed to when they were in the office," said Jamie McShane, a spokesman for Con Edison. McShane said the expected maximum load was expected to reach 12,000 megawatts each day this week. That is well below the peak of 13,000 megawatts recorded in July 2013.

Electricity courses through a web of high-voltage transmission feeders, substations and lower-voltage distribution feeders on its way to businesses and homes. "A heat wave is essentially an invisible hurricane," said Yury Dvorkin, an assistant professor at New York University who led a project on whether infrastructure systems were resilient enough to support large numbers of people working from home. "It pushes the system to its limit."

Still, the state's Public Service Commission said in May that the electric grid and utility companies were prepared for increased summer demand. It forecast a statewide peak of around 2,000 megawatts less than last summer and about 10,000 megawatts less than the maximum power that could be generated if necessary. (The commission also cautioned that electric bills would be higher than a year ago. Con Edison is seeking a 17.6 percent rate increase for delivering power to its customers. This would be in addition to increases in customers' bills in February as fuel prices surged worldwide.)

There has already been one heat wave this month, although relatively low humidity made it less uncomfortable. "We quietly got to 90" last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, said Jay Engle, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. "This one now is the first one with a combination of heat and humidity. That's the difference."

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And, while memories tend to fade when it comes to how hot it was, his statistics showed that there were three heat waves last summer, using the definition of a heat wave as three consecutive days with temperatures of at least 90 degrees. In 2020, there was a 10-day stretch in late July when thermometers soared past 90 degrees every day.

The Weather Service says the temperature will reach 94 degrees today and 95 tomorrow, when there will be a chance of thunderstorms. But the city has already opened cooling centers in air-conditioned buildings. (Here's a location finder on the city's website.)

And Con Edison opened its emergency response center, a command post in an auditorium-size room on the 19th floor of its headquarters in the Union Square neighborhood of Manhattan.

"Con Ed has been pushed like all the other major electric utilities on resiliency, resiliency, resiliency," Wheelock told me. "That's one thing we're watching. Hopefully you won't be calling back in two days saying, 'Hi, look what just happened.' We all want Con Ed to be successful."

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WEATHER

Prepare for a hot, sunny day near the mid-90s. The evening is mostly clear with temps dropping to around the high 70s.

ALTERNATE-SIDE PARKING

In effect until Aug. 15 (Feast of the Assumption).

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Murder charge against a bodega clerk is dropped

Jose Alba, left, killed Austin Simon after Simon went behind the counter at a Harlem bodega and shoved Alba over an argument with Simon's girlfriend.

The Manhattan district attorney dropped a murder charge against a bodega clerk who stabbed an attacker to death. Fueled over two and a half weeks by video clips, tabloid headlines and comments by Mayor Eric Adams, the case had raised difficult questions about crime, self-defense and the criminal justice system.

The clerk, Jose Alba, 61, killed Austin Simon, 35, on July 1, after Alba had argued with Simon's girlfriend and Simon had gone behind the counter. The district attorney, Alvin Bragg, filed the second-degree murder charge and sought $500,000 bail, which prosecutors said was justified because they said Alba planned to leave the country.

Alba's supporters countered that the charges should not have been filed because he was defending himself in his store.

Bragg suddenly found himself criticized for being too harsh on Alba after months of being blasted as too lenient on defendants. Adams, a former police captain who has often called for tougher prosecutions, held a news conference at the bodega and declared that Alba personified "innocent New Yorkers" who should be able to do their jobs without fear of crime.

"We have enough people who are there for people who break the law," Adams said. "I'm a person that's there for people who follow the law."

The dismissal of the charge against Alba was not particularly unusual, veterans of the district attorney's office said, though Karen Friedman Agnifilo — a deputy to Bragg's predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr. — said that the investigation appeared to have moved along "quite fast."

Still, she said that some of the criticism of Bragg had been unwarranted. "These are tough decisions, they really are," she said. "These are tough cases, and they're close calls."

METROPOLITAN DIARY

Charcoal

Dear Diary:

I boarded a 1 train at Chambers Street and took a seat in the middle of a half-empty car. It wasn't until we reached Penn Station that I noticed my charcoal likeness in the open sketchbook of the older man sitting next to me.

I sat as still as I could until 50th Street while he finished sketching. He signed the page, tore it carefully along the perforation and handed it to me without a word.

"This is great," I said. "Do you do this often?"

"Every day," he replied. "On a different train."

"Which one tomorrow?"

"The 6."

We spoke a while longer. He told me about his time as a city worker and why he used charcoal. I rode two extra stops so we could finish the conversation.

I found a $10 bill in my wallet and thanked him for the picture and the chat.

"I'll see you again," he said.

"I sure hope so," I said.

I happily walked the 19 blocks home.

— Renato de Angelis

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at nytoday@nytimes.com.

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