Tristate Power Companies Surge Ahead With Upgrades
In some of the regions hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy, utilities—including Public Service Electric and Gas Co. (PSE&G) and Atlantic City Electric in New Jersey; Consolidated Edison and Long Island Power Authority in New York; and Connecticut Light & Power—are putting prevention plans in place to guard against the impact of future storms.
While most utilities were criticized for their storm response, at least one, Atlantic City Electric (AC Electric), garnered some praise. In a recently released Sandy responsiveness study by J.D. Power and Associates, a sister firm of ENR New York, the utility was found to have performed particularly well. The study, conducted from Jan. 4 to Jan. 11, surveyed more than 5,900 residential customers in 15 states affected by the storm.
In South Jersey, which withstood the eye of the storm, AC Electric ranked first in overall effectiveness for handling emergency response to customers that lost power for 24 hours or longer, the study shows. Among the 31 utilities impacted by the storm, AC Electric scored well in such areas as hurricane preparedness, hurricane recovery support and communication.
At the height of the storm, 220,000 of the utility's 547,000 customers lost power, but it was able to restore service to all customers whose homes could safely accept it within one week of the storm, says Frank Tedesco, an AC Electric spokesman. At the peak of the restoration effort, which began on Wednesday, Oct. 31, the utility mobilized more than 2,800 employees, contractors and restoration crews to replace about 220 transformers, 185 utility poles and more than 286,300 ft of wire, Tedesco says.
The utility prepared for Sandy's arrival by mobilizing employees, securing utility contractors as well as out-of-state utility assistance, checking material inventories, identifying staging areas, reserving hotel rooms for incoming crews and retaining additional call center support, Tedesco says. AC Electric received more than 92,000 customer calls during the storm restoration effort, with 99% of those calls being answered in less than 30 seconds, he adds.
AC Electric plans to spend more than $800 million over five years for infrastructure improvements under its reliability plan, which was in place prior to Sandy, Tedesco says. The plan includes existing infrastructure upgrades, distribution system reliability enhancements and new facility construction.
Meanwhile, Con Ed, which covers New York City and Westchester, was criticized largely due to flooding of its 13th Street substation—part of the utility's 14th Street complex in Manhattan—that caused extended power outages in Manhattan. The East River Station of the utility, which serves 3.2 million customers, was also flooded. There were 1 million outages within Con Ed's system, and the utility lost nearly 1,000 utility poles, more than 900 transformers and about 140 miles of cable.
Con Ed plans to spend about $250 million in the next two years on hardening infrastructure. It is currently replacing equipment at the 14th Street complex, building higher walls around the perimeter and restoring power lines, poles and substation equipment to its original state, says D. Joy Faber, a Con Ed spokeswoman.
"The only thing that would have prevented flooding at the 14th Street complex would have been higher walls and other flood prevention measures, which we are undertaking now," Faber says. "Prior to Sandy, we were prepared to handle a storm tide surge almost 2 feet higher than that ever recorded in history, [but] Sandy's storm tide surpassed all previous records by several feet," she adds.
Con Ed also plans to spend $1 billion through 2016 in protection measures. This would include $240 million to strengthen 13 substations in low-lying areas, $200 million to reconfigure select overhead lines underground and $165 million to harden electric and steam production facilities. The New York State Public Service Commission is now reviewing Con Ed's plans.
At LIPA, restoration efforts following the storm involved more than 15,000 workers and included 6,400 line workers. Crews replaced 4,500 poles and 2,100 transformers and repaired about 400 miles of wire and 44 affected substations. But New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo heavily criticized LIPA for poor response times and a lack of communication as some customers remained without power for weeks.
Following the criticism, COO Michael Hervey resigned from the company, which has $7 billion in debt and whose operations are currently being run by London-based National Grid. However, on Jan 1., 2014, PSEG, the parent company of PSE&G, will take over the management of LIPA's electric transmission and distribution system, says Wendy Ladd, a National Grid spokeswoman. PSEG will operate a dedicated Long Island business unit that will exclusively serve LIPA's 1.1 million electric customers.
The 10-year contract was approved last June prior to Sandy, but in the wake of the storm PSEG will expand its role and take over the Long Island utility's operations, says Kristine Snodgrass, a PSE&G spokeswoman.
In New Jersey, PSE&G brought in 4,000 mutual aid workers during Sandy to help assist its own full-time crew of 600 linemen with restoration efforts. Following Hurricane Irene in 2011, PSE&G replaced older 26,000-volt lines with 69,000-volt lines, which are better able to withstand lightning, wind and rain, and spent $28 million pruning trees away from power lines.
Post-Sandy, PSE&G created a $3.9-billion Energy Strong program to create 5,800 jobs and reduce the impact of future outages. In February, PSE&G filed the 10-year initiative for review with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.
PSE&G says its initiative includes $1.7 billion to raise, relocate or protect switching and substations affected by recent storms as well as those in newly designated flood zones; $454 million to deploy smart grid technologies to better monitor system operations; and $60 million to move 20 miles of overhead electric distribution lines underground. While Con Ed's plan would increase customer bills by 3% for the next three years, PSE&G says its plan would have little impact on customer bills.
Con Ed says that it needs to charge customers because it is a private company and not eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement under current federal guidelines.
"[PSE&G] rates would go up, but other charges would be falling off the bill at the same time," Snodgrass says.
Certain charges currently included in PSE&G's customer's bills are related to the deregulation of the New Jersey energy market, Snodgrasss says. These include the Transitional Energy Facility Assessment, which will expire in January 2014; the Securitization Transition Charge, which will expire in 2016; and the Non-Utility Generation Charge, which will approach zero in January 2017.
Within the tristate region, Connecticut had the least amount of damage from the storm, officials say.
CL&P says it restored power to more than 850,000 of its customers by Nov. 7. The utility's 2,900 line workers set 1,700 new poles, restrung more than 100 miles of overhead lines and replaced 2,400 transformers and 5,000 cross arms. The utility's efforts to restore electrical service to the 149 cities and towns that it serves in such a timely fashion did not go unnoticed; it was awarded the Emergency Recovery Award by the Edison Electric Institute in January.
To help prepare for the unpredictability of Mother Nature, CL&P has developed a five-year, $300-million System Resiliency plan to help strengthen its infrastructure, says Mitch Gross, a CL&P spokesman. The plan, which was approved in January, focuses on three initiatives—tree trimming, electrical hardening and structural hardening.