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The Illuminating Company Completing Grid Modernization Project

Oct. 13, 2022
Plan filed to build on project’s success through second phase of smart grid technology investments.

The Illuminating Company, a FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary, is wrapping up smart grid upgrades across greater Cleveland to help prevent or minimize the length of service disruptions, particularly during severe weather. The work includes installation of new, automated equipment and technology in substations and along power lines serving more than 76,000 customers in parts of Cleveland, Independence, Bedford, Beachwood, Solon and nearby areas. Upgrades began in 2020 under the company's initial three-year portfolio of grid modernization work and are on track to be completed this fall.

"Every project is customized and designed to address the particular reliability needs of each community," said Ed Shuttleworth, president of FirstEnergy's Ohio operations. "These upgrades will allow us to restore service to our customers faster following severe weather as well as pave the way for a more robust power system to support different types of energy sources in the years to come."

Utility personnel are finalizing electrical equipment upgrades in 10 substations in the greater Cleveland area and modernizing power lines that deliver electric service to customers from those facilities. Thousands of homes and businesses in the area will benefit from the installation of 193 new automated reclosing devices in the substations and along power lines to help limit the frequency, duration and scope of service interruptions.

These 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 substation or power line within seconds for certain types of outages to keep power safely flowing to customers. This technology is safer and more efficient because it often allows utility personnel to automatically restore service to customers in lieu of sending a crew to investigate.

If the device senses a more serious issue, like a fallen tree on electrical equipment, it will isolate the outage to that area and limit the total number of affected customers. The device's smart technology will quickly pinpoint the location of the fault and help utility personnel better understand the cause of the outage to help speed restoration.

Locations for these automated devices were determined based on a review of historical outage patterns across greater Cleveland to identify the areas that could benefit most from new technology.

Additional power lines that tie together existing circuits are also being constructed to provide more flexibility in restoring service following outages. The new power lines will help reduce the length of outages and the overall number of customers impacted by switching them to a backup line for faster service restoration.

Lastly, nearly 230 capacitor banks were installed to regulate voltage, helping provide energy savings by reducing the amount of electricity that must be generated and evenly distributing electricity to allow all customers served by a single power line to receive the same flow of safe, reliable power.

Beyond the company's investments in power lines and equipment, The Illuminating Company has installed more than 150,000 smart meters for customers in Cuyahoga County since 2020. As the latest in metering technology, smart meters enable customers to better track their energy consumption and minimize estimated readings. Smart meters also can be leveraged by customers electing to enroll in programs like time-varying rates, which can provide price incentives to reduce electricity use during high demand periods throughout the day.

FirstEnergy's Ohio utilities, including The Illuminating Company, recently filed a plan with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) that would expand smart grid technology investments. The filing, known as Ohio Grid Mod II, proposes a four-year, US$ 626 million investment plan that builds upon system upgrades completed since the PUCO approved the utilities' Grid Mod I plan in 2019.

In addition to power infrastructure upgrades, the proposed plan also includes several pilot programs that could provide enhanced customer benefits, such as installing smart underground technology in the downtown Cleveland network. The Grid Mod II Plan is subject to PUCO approval.

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