FirstEnergy spending $166 million on Mon Power power grid upgrades

The projects include transmission enhancements to reinforce the system, along with constructing new distribution lines and inspecting and replacing utility poles and other equipment

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FirstEnergy Corp. expects to invest about $166 million in 2017 on distribution and transmission infrastructure projects to help enhance service reliability for its customers in Mon Power's 34-county West Virginia service area.

The projects include transmission enhancements to reinforce the system, along with constructing new distribution lines and inspecting and replacing utility poles and other equipment.

"Each year we carefully review and plan transmission and distribution projects that will enhance service to our customers, while also preparing our system for future economic growth," said Holly Kauffman, president of FirstEnergy's West Virginia operations. "By doing proactive upgrades, we enhance the reliability and resiliency of our system and help reduce the duration and frequency of service interruptions our customers might experience."

Projects planned in the Mon Power footprint in 2017 include:

· Replacing a 138-kilovolt (kV) transformer in a transmission substation near Thomas, W.Va., with a new transformer of greater capacity to upgrade the regional transmission grid to accommodate increased output from nearby wind generation in Tucker County. The $2.2 million project is scheduled to begin in the fall, with the new transformer installed and operational by the end of the year.

· Reconfiguring four transmission lines in Pleasants County to by-pass a substation adjacent to the decommissioned Willow Island Generation Station and connect with another substation several miles away. The $2.2 million project includes constructing eight new wood pole structures to interconnect the four transmission lines, along with replacing two breakers and adding a third breaker to the nearby substation. Work should be completed by June, with about $550,000 spent on the project in 2017. After the project is completed, a contractor will dismantle the substation next to the old plant, removing steel, breakers and other electrical equipment from the site.

· Replacing 26 sets of disconnect switches on 138-kV breakers in numerous transmission substations throughout Mon Power's service area at a cost of about $1.3 million to enhance safety and reliability of the network. The large switches are used by substation electricians to manually disconnect the substations from the grid so inspections, upgrades and maintenance can be completed safely. The replacement work should be completed by the end of the year.

· Upgrading communication equipment on a transmission line between a transmission substation in Parkersburg, W.Va., and an AEP transmission substation in Ohio across the Ohio River to more quickly operate protective equipment in the substations and enhance the reliability of the interconnected transmission system. When a fault is detected on the line, the new fiber-optic, high-speed communication wire will quickly relay the information to breaker controls at each substation to prevent damage to vital equipment. The $200,000 project is scheduled to be completed by summer.

· Constructing an additional transmission line to serve a substation near White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier County at a cost of about $1.5 million to enhance electric service reliability for about 3,000 Mon Power customers in the surrounding area.

· Upgrading and replacing equipment on distribution circuits throughout the service territory at an expected cost of about $7.5 million. The enhancements include installing new wire, cable and fuses.

· Inspecting about 23,000 distribution poles and replacing about 600 poles at an expected cost of more than $1.7 million.

· Building new distribution lines and related infrastructure at a cost of about $300,000 to serve the new West Ridge commercial development in Morgantown.

· Constructing distribution facilities to connect a new 12-story student apartment building at the site of the former VFW post at Spruce and Willey streets in Morgantown.

· Installing new electronic circuit breakers at a cost of about $110,000 to enhance electric service reliability for about 1,900 Mon Power customers in the Goshen Road, Booth and Indian Creek areas of Morgantown. These advanced protective devices can selectively open and isolate certain sections of a line when problems like tree branches contacting the wire are detected, limiting the number of customers affected by an outage.

· Relocating a distribution circuit at a cost of about $450,000 to enhance electric service reliability for about 500 Mon Power customers in the Camden and Alum Bridge areas near Weston, W.Va. in Lewis County.

· Rebuilding a distribution circuit at a cost of about $200,000 to provide more capacity and enhance service reliability to about 250 Mon Power customers in the Baxter area north of Fairmont.

· Relocating a distribution circuit at a cost of about $400,000 to enhance electric service reliability to about 700 customers in the Arnoldsburg area of Calhoun County, W.Va.

· Relocating a distribution circuit at a cost of about $175,000 to enhance service reliability for about 550 Mon Power customers in the area north of Webster Springs in Webster County, W.Va.

· Relocating a distribution circuit at a cost of about $300,000 to enhance service reliability for about 480 Mon Power customers in the Summersville Lake area of Nicholas County, W.Va.

About $13 million of the budgeted total will be for transmission-related projects owned by the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line Company (TrAILCo), a FirstEnergy transmission affiliate.

In 2016, FirstEnergy spent about $250 million in the Mon Power area on hundreds of large and small transmission and distribution projects, including building new substations and transmission lines, adding equipment to existing locations, installing voltage-regulating equipment and automated controls, and replacing poles.

Mon Power, a FirstEnergy electric distribution company, serves about 385,000 customers in 34 West Virginia counties.

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