JCP&L seeks to resolve reliability issues

Rates will tick up with new plan

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  • Storm in March in Stillwater Photo By Laurie Gordon

  • Storm in May in Sparta Photo By TOP

By Mandy Coriston

—Area residents unhappy with lengthy outages and delayed response times during last winter’s storms will be pleased to hear that JCP&L has filed a plan with the Board of Public Utilities aimed at shortening the duration of power losses and protecting the system against some of the catastrophic damage it saw during the brutal snows and winds earlier this year.

The program, Reliability Plus, is a series of 4,000 individual projects that will improve the electric grid for all 1.1 million Jersey Central Power & Light customers in the 13 counties the utility company serves. It was developed based on analysis of the existing grid and feedback from customers during a series of public meetings this spring.

“The improvements will be tailored specifically to certain areas of the grid. We’ll be expanding our vegetation removal in more rural areas, and focusing on underground equipment in more urban settings,” Ron Morano, a spokesperson for JCP&L, said.

There are four main components to the initiative; the first is tree removal and management.

“We’re going to be going beyond the scope of our prior vegetation removal,” Romano said. “With the emerald ash borer becoming more prevalent, we’ve got to ramp up efforts to trim around our lines and equipment.” Romano said the company will adjust its previous four-year tree-trimming cycle to a more frequent schedule.

The second part of the program focuses on major equipment hubs. JCP&L will update substations and address issues surrounding them, such as flooding and security. The company will replace equipment with newer technologies, which will lessen the frequency and duration of outages by keeping substations online even during major weather events.

Third, JCP&L is turning to automation to increase reliability. According to Romano, the company will be installing devices called TripSavers, to protect the circuits. “These devices prevent short-term ‘glitches’ from becoming long-term outages,” Romano said, “and will reduce the overall number of outages from things like branches on wires.” The automation also includes devices which can isolate damage on the grid, effectively pinpointing the cause and allowing fewer customers to be affected by an outage.

The last facet of the Reliability Plus program is improving underground systems by replacing aging cables and installing submersible transformers. The focus will be on updating the technology of its underground grids.

Romano said the power company is seeking the support of the municipalities it serves.

“We need the town governments to understand how important this project is, and impart that to their residents,” he said. To that end, JCP&L representative Jackie Espinoza has been visiting town councils. Newton adopted a resolution supporting the initiative at its Aug. 13 meeting, and Andover Township will discuss the matter in September.

JCP&L sees the project, which is estimated to cost just under $400 million, as an investment in the future. The power company estimates that over the life of the equipment it’s planning to install, customers will see an economic benefit of more than $2 billion, and it will come at very little cost to consumers now.

“People can expect to see a minimal rate increase with this project,” Romano said, “It will range anywhere from 26 cents a month to no more than $1.89.”

After the frustration of last winter, the company is hoping consumers will see this as a small price to pay for greater peace of mind.

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