FirstEnergy's Ohio utilities want approval to modernize power grid

The plan outlines a three-year, $450 million investment in projects that will create a stronger distribution system

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FirstEnergy said its Ohio utilities have filed a plan with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that is aimed at reducing the frequency and duration of power outages by redesigning and modernizing portions of their distribution system.

The plan outlines a three-year, $450 million investment in projects that will create a stronger distribution system serving customers of Ohio Edison, Cleveland Electric Illuminating, and Toledo Edison, FirstEnergy said.

The projects will help restore power faster, strengthen the system against adverse weather conditions, and enhance system performance by giving operators the ability to monitor and react to issues on the grid in real time, the company said.

FirstEnergy noted that the proposed projects would particularly focus on redesigning certain distribution lines across its Ohio footprint that have experienced power outages in the past. On average, the company said that it expects that that work could reduce outages under normal conditions by as much as 30 percent or more, as well as speed restoration time by up to 25 percent on power lines targeted in the plan.

Beyond the immediate benefits to customers, the work is needed to support future integration of new and smart technologies, as well as such customer-driven applications as plug-in electric vehicles and distributed energy resources, FirstEnergy said.

As noted in the companies’ application filed with the commission, the projects in their “Distribution Platform Modernization,” or DPM, Plan, include:

· Circuit ties – Those projects create alternative routes for power to flow, thereby providing increased operational flexibility on the companies’ system. As a result, outage durations are reduced as customers can be served from multiple sources. The companies have identified about 300 new tie miles to be created at an estimated cost over three years of $110 million

· Reconductoring – In conjunction with circuit ties, reconductoring facilitates alternative power flows by increasing wire sizes to accommodate increases in load due to rerouted power without overloading smaller conductors that typically are at the ends of circuits. That work contributes to reduced restoration times, and improves the system’s ability to withstand adverse weather conditions. The companies have identified more than 800 circuit miles that will need to be reconductored at an estimated cost over three years of $130 million

· Remote-controlled reclosers – Those investments decrease the number of customers affected by an outage by allowing circuits to be divided into smaller sections. In addition to fault isolation, reclosers enable remote switching for quicker restoration, and are required to accommodate future distribution automation. The companies plan to install about 1,900 reclosers and associated communication system infrastructure at an estimated cost over three years of $150 million

FirstEnergy noted in its statement that it estimates that the cost of those projects would comprise about 2 percent of the typical residential customer’s monthly bill.

As noted in the companies’ application, the commission in April kicked off an initiative called, “PowerForward,” which is a commission “review of the latest in technological and regulatory innovation, to enhance the consumer electricity experience.”

Through that initiative, the companies said, the commission “intends to chart a path forward for future grid modernization projects, innovative regulations and forward-thinking policies.”

The companies said that their DPM Plan should be completed as soon as possible so that future grid modernization investments, including those that may be directed by PowerForward, can be implemented in a more efficient and expeditious fashion.

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