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March 2018 Roared in Like a Lion for the Utility Industry

From Consumers Energy in Michigan to Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) in the northeastern United States, March 2018 will be remembered as a tough season for outages, from the mid-Atlantic to Northeast to New England regions. But utility expenditures in recent years to harden and protect T&D systems have been paying off, and utilities are to be praised for their increased levels of responsiveness to customers and intra-utility coordination.

While efforts of utilities to bolster their T&D systems are worthy of praise, how do overall O&M expenditures stack up at utilities, in relation to customer revenues?  Let’s take a look at some representative U.S. utilities below, using detailed data from FERC Form 1. Ranking in increasing order, by dollars spent annually per utility customers, it is an interesting coincidence that Jersey Central Power & Light happens to show up admirably at the top of the list, with the lowest per-capita spend.

Electric Distribution Incidents as a Function of Month

Source:  Argonne National Laboratory “National Electricity Emergency Response Capabilities”

As a separate story, it is also noteworthy that JCP&L has been bolstering its T&D system, per investments highlighted in a recent news story, “$357 Million to be Spent in 2018 in Jersey Central Power & Light Service Area to Strengthen Electric System” detailed below.

** These Regulatory Commission Expenses are line 53 on FERC Form 1, at Reference Page number 350, with FERC providing the following definition: “Report particulars (details) of regulatory commission expenses incurred during the current year (or incurred in previous years, if being amortized) relating to format cases before a regulatory body, or cases in which such a body was a party.”

Light Service Area to Strengthen Electric System

JCP&L had announced in late February an investment of $357 million for 2018, to strengthen the grid and help reduce number and duration of power outages, and enhance customer reliability across its 13-county northern and central New Jersey service area.  Over the past 10 years, the company has invested more than $3 billion to strengthen the durability and resiliency of its electric transmission and distribution systems.

Major projects scheduled for 2018 include replacing remote-controlled substation equipment used to monitor and respond to grid conditions and replacing 34.5 kilovolt (kV) substation circuit breakers.  Other scheduled work includes upgrading distribution circuit breakers and more than 90 circuit upgrades.

"Our infrastructure work and inspections enhance the reliability of our electric system, further minimizing the duration and frequency of service interruptions our customers might experience," said Jim Fakult, president of JCP&L.  "In 2017, on average, JCP&L customers experienced about one outage lasting less than two hours in duration, which is better than the reliability standards established by the state utility commission." 

JCP&L projects scheduled for 2018 include:

  • Replacing 40 automated control units at various substations that can be operated remotely from a company dispatch center at a cost of $7.3 million.  The equipment provides operators the ability to restore power more quickly and efficiently than if a crew was needed to investigate the problem.  Enhancing security systems at seven substations at a cost of $14.3 million.
  • Completing underground and overhead circuit improvements in Morris County at a cost of $10.3 million.  The work includes replacing cable, enhancing connection points where two circuits join, and relocating transformers. 
  • Replacing 24 substation circuit breakers to automatically disconnect from the system when a problem occurs at a cost of $6.6 million to help reduce the length of power outages and the number of customers affected.
  • Upgrading more than 90 circuits at a cost of $4.7 million.  Work includes adding remote-control devices to automatically restore service, installing animal guards on poles and in substations to limit the number of outages, installing lightning arrestors to help protect the system from stormy weather, and proactively replacing poles, crossarms and wire, as needed.
  • Upgrading and replacing distribution oil-filled circuit breakers with newer more efficient equipment.
  • Adding new equipment to increase capacity at a substation in Ocean County
  • Installing new "smart" equipment at 54 sites on the distribution system that can automatically restore customers quicker should an outage occur.

In 2017, JCP&L spent about $308 million on large and small transmission and distribution projects, including building new transmission lines, installing voltage-regulating equipment and automated controls. 

More details are available at this link.

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