Redundancy, Tree Trimming, Key to Keeping Lights On, Utilities Say

A redundant grid, and a smarter one, will help protect power during superstorms

by Tom Johnson, NJSpotlight.com

If New Jersey wants a better response to major storms like Hurricane Sandy, the state needs to build more redundancy into the power grid and get serious about aggressive tree-trimming efforts, utility executives said yesterday.

The state also needs to look at ways to develop a smarter electric grid, a step that would improve communication between electric companies and customers and allow more efficient dispatch of crews to restore service, the executives said at a forum sponsored by the New Jersey Alliance for Action.

The event at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel provided a glimpse of what the state’s four utilities will likely tell a pair of legislative committees today and tomorrow, as they explore what steps need to be taken to improve the power grid in the wake of superstorms like Sandy, which left 2.7 million customers in the dark.

The storm has spurred investigations by the Christie administration and lawmakers, as well as proposals to avert problems in the future.

For instance, a bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Morris), would require gas stations, hospitals, and nursing homes to have backup generators in the event they lose power. There were long lines at the few gas stations open after Sandy, because most had lost the ability to pump fuel.

Costs Starting to Become Clear

For the state’s electric utilities, the costs of Sandy are just beginning to emerge.

Yesterday, Public Service Electric & Gas said its restoration costs could run as much as $300 million, which is approximately $200 million less than what Jersey Central Power & Light’s costs are likely to run, according to the Morristown-based utility.

Then there is the matter of improving reliability in a time when extreme weather is unlikely to be an anomaly.

“This is changing customers’ expectations,’’ said Francis Peverly, vice president of operations at Rockland Electric, which serves 72,000 customers. “Whether they are real or not, we have to come to some middle ground.’’

“We have to rethink what we’re doing on the electric side of the business,’’ said Ralph LaRossa, president and chief operating officer of PSE&G, the state’s biggest utility with 2.2 million customers. “We need to build redundancy into the system.’’

That especially applies to substations and switching stations. During Sandy, 58 utility substations were flooded, knocking out service to tens of thousands of customers at a time.

Substations are where high-voltage electricity from transmission lines is stepped down to a lower voltage that can be delivered to homes and businesses over distribution lines. A switching station is a transmission substation where the utility can switch or reroute power from one line or path to another, thus making it possible to isolate -- and clear -- a fault such as a tree falling across the wires.

PSE&G recognized the vulnerability of some of its substations and already had put plans in to PJM to back up a Newark substation, which flooded and was knocked off line during Sandy, LaRossa said. The utility’s investment strategy may change as a result of the storm, he added.

Read more at NJSpotlight.com



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