With power restored to virtually all 1.7 million customers who lost power as a result of Hurricane Sandy, PSE&G has released a postmortem explaining its efforts to restore power after the storm, as well as outlining its plans for the future.
“We restored power to more customers than in any other storm in our history — or in the history of any utility in the country,” says a statement co-authored by PSE&G chairman and CEO Ralph Izzo and Ralph LaRossa, COO and president. “We brought in 1,000 out-of-state line workers and tree trimmers in preparation for the storm, and that number grew to more than 4,000 by November 9. In the first three days alone, we restored service to more than 1 million customers.”
They point out that the size and the power of the storm — twice the size of Hurricane Irene with winds up to 90 MPH — caused numerous difficulties in the company’s power restoration efforts. “More than one-third of our transmission circuits, half of our sub transmission circuits and more than three-quarters of our distribution circuits were interrupted,” said Izzo and LaRossa. “The number of customers impacted was twice the number impacted by Hurricane Irene, which until now had the distinction of being the worst storm in PSE&G history.”
A major problem was the storm surge, the PSE&G officials said. The surge brought a “wall of water” ranging from four to eight feet high that damaged switching stations and substations along the Arthur Kill and the Hudson, Hackensack, and Passaic rivers.
“Some of these stations had never been impacted by water damage in the 50 to 75 years that they existed. The work to restore those stations required painstaking, labor intensive drying and cleaning of equipment to get them back in service,” said the statement.
There were also 48,000 trees that needed to be removed or trimmed (compared to 22,500 after Hurricane Irene), and more than 2,400 utility poles that had to be replaced or repaired. “The record tree and pole damage slowed our ability to restore power in Union, Middlesex, Bergen, and western Essex counties as we struggled to gain access to streets, and in some cases backyards to repair overhead lines,” said the statement.
At the same time, PSE&G concentrated on maintaining communication with its customers. Those efforts included:
• Daily calls with the mayors of every town in its service area media briefings by LaRossa every morning.
• E-mails to the 800,000-plus customers in the company database and frequent website updates.
• More than 8,000 Twitter messages about outages, restorations, and information about mobile care centers where the company provided food, ice, water, and charging facilities.
• Adding 45,000 new Twitter followers.
Now that power is back on, the company says it is working to evaluate its efforts and make changes in order to improve performance in future emergencies.
One improvement would be the installation of smart grid intelligence technology at the meter to give the company information at the customer level.
“Like every other utility in New Jersey we were hampered by the lack of information at the meter/customer level. Our systems only have information at the transmission, switching, substation, and circuit level. When the circuit is restored, we have no way of knowing that a particular customer does not have service unless they report it individually,” says the statement. In response, the company will be looking at proposals for smart grid technology. “This is a decision that must be made at the state level and clearly costs must be taken into consideration.”
PSE&G will also look to improve communications by encouraging customers to sign up on its website; explore improved use of web, text, and social; and work with municipalities, counties, and Board of Public Utilities to improve crisis communication plans.
Infrastructure is another area to be evaluated and strengthened. “We will evaluate options to protect substations in coastal areas,” the statement says. “The best way to protect the system is to build in redundancy in our distribution system. For example, we will be building a new substation over the next year inland in Newark. With the ‘loop’ design of our network, we can reroute electricity when we have an issue with a substation.”
The company says it will also evaluate its tree trimming programs and “be more aggressive with trees near power lines.” As another way of improving access, PSE&G says it plans to speak with officials in municipalities to move utility poles and electrical lines that run through residential backyards to the curb.
In order to increase the reliability of transmission of electricity, the company says it expects to invest $1 billion in enhancements and replacements this year. “We will analyze the effectiveness, costs, and whether it might make sense to bury some overhead lines to increase reliability.”
For those interested in learning more, LaRossa will speak at a New Jersey Alliance For Action event on Tuesday, December 4, at 8 a.m. at PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel. The event will address storm repair efforts and the future of energy-related capital improvements in New Jersey. Cost: $95 for members, $400 for non-members. 609-732-4694. The event will also feature executives from N.J. American Water, Atlantic City Electric, South Jersey Gas Company, Spectra Energy, and Rockland Electric.