FirstEnergy Corp.’s Pennsylvania utilities completed more than $120 million in major projects over the last year that include infrastructure and technological upgrades to the electric distribution system. The investment is part of a five-year plan designed to enhance electric service reliability and minimize the impact of outages for two million customers served by Pennsylvania Power (Penn Power), West Penn Power, Pennsylvania Electric Company (Penelec) and Metropolitan Edison (Met-Ed).
Known as FirstEnergy’s Long Term Infrastructure Improvement Plan (LTIIP II), the $572 million capital investment plan, which runs from 2020-2024, builds on $360 million in similar system improvements made from 2016-2019 during phase one of the plan. LTIIP projects include accelerated distribution work to replace older utility poles, underground and overhead lines and fuses; installing new substation equipment, network vaults and manhole covers; reconfiguring circuits; and placing more automated equipment in the field.
“Our Pennsylvania utilities remain committed to updating and modernizing the infrastructure, technology and equipment used to provide safe, dependable electric service to customers for many years to come,” said Scott Wyman, president of FirstEnergy’s Pennsylvania Operations. “We identify and undertake projects that strengthen a vast distribution network exposed to severe weather, time, tree contacts, vehicle accidents and other hazards.”
Through LTIIP, customers benefit from new automated reclosing devices that will help limit the frequency, duration and scope of service interruptions. The electrical devices work like a circuit breaker in a home that shuts off power when trouble occurs, with the added benefit of automatically reenergizing a power line within seconds for certain types of outages to keep power safely flowing to customers.
These devices allow utility personnel to automatically restore service to a portion of the customers affected prior to sending a crew to investigate and manually reset equipment, which is especially helpful in rural or hard-to-access areas. This automated technology is safer and more efficient. To determine the best locations for these devices, reliability engineers reviewed outage patterns across their respective service territories and identified areas that would benefit from an automated reclosing device.
Other projects include replacing hundreds of miles of existing power lines with thicker, durable wire designed to withstand tree debris and severe weather. New utility poles were installed to support the electrical infrastructure and additional power lines were constructed to connect customers to an alternate circuit, allowing for more flexibility in restoring outages due to events such as storms or vehicle accidents. Such ties offer a backup power feed that will help keep the lights on for customers if wires or equipment on their regular line are damaged or need to be taken out of service.
In addition to electrical line upgrades, new fencing was installed in some substations to help deter climbing animals and protect against electrical equipment interference that can cause power outages. The interior fencing encircles sensitive equipment, keeping animals out of harm’s way and electricity safely flowing to customers.
These targeted investments to the electric distribution system are making a positive difference:
- Met-Ed’s projects have reduced the frequency of service interruptions from line and equipment failure by about 9 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.
- Penelec's automated technology coupled with well-trained control center dispatchers allowed power to be restored in five minutes or less to 45 percent more customers in 2019 compared to 2015.
- Penn Power’s projects have reduced the frequency of service interruptions by 20 percent for customers in areas where work has been completed since 2016.
- West Penn Power’s projects have reduced service interruptions from line and equipment failure by about 10 percent per year from 2018 to 2020.