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JCP&L plan for reliability improvements will cost you less

By: David P. Willis |

Jersey Central Power & Light wanted to spend an extra $387 million to improve its distribution network and cut down on power outages, including removing more trees that can become entangled in wires.

On Tuesday, the utility said it agreed to spend a smaller amount, $97 million, on the project called JCP&L Reliability Plus.

The agreement, made between staff of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel and the New Jersey Large Energy Users Coalition, will lessen the project’s impact on the utility’s 1.1 million electricity customers in 13 counties.

The work consists of projects beyond the $150 million the utility typically spends on reliability improvements each year.

It includes more than 1,400 projects to enhance the reliability and resiliency of overhead distribution lines, replace existing equipment with smart technology devices and expand the vegetation management program to address tree-related outages.

“We have taken great care to ensure that JCP&L Reliability Plus focuses on the enhancements that have the most reliability benefit for our more than one million New Jersey customers,” JCP&L President Jim Fakult said in a statement.

“The enhancements implemented through this program will help reduce the frequency of power outages, address tree damage during severe weather events, provide more flexibility for operating the system and help modernize our electric grid in New Jersey.”

If the settlement is approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, the work will be completed between June 1, 2019, and December 31, 2020.

See the video at the top of this story for more on the initial project.

When it was first proposed last summer, JCP&L said it would initially hike the average customer’s electric bill by 25 cents a month. The amount would have risen to $1.89 a month by the end of the four years.

With the slimmed down project, the average JCP&L residential customer using 768 kilowatt hours per month is expected to see a 0.5 percent overall rate increase, or about about 50 cents a month.

Stefanie Brand, director of the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, called the settlement “fair.”

“There is some work that we want them to do and it is a much more manageable size,” Brand said. “I think that hopefully they will get the work done. It will help with reliability.”

She said her office wanted to make sure the work did not include reliability improvements the company would make as part of its normal course of business.

The project includes:

  • Improvements to harden overhead electric circuits. Installing new electronic fuses to reduce the duration of outages caused by temporary obstructions; and removal of overhanging limbs near JCP&L power lines and equipment in identified areas.
  • Automating systems. Installing technology that can automatically detect damage on the system, safely isolate it and quickly restore the majority of customers served on a line, reducing the number of customers out of service until repairs are made.
  • Enhancing substation reliability. Installing flood mitigation measures and enhanced equipment to harden substations and make them less susceptible to storm damage.

The utility was criticized for its reliability following severe outages in early 2018. On March 2, 2018 high winds knocked down poles and trees customers in North Jersey, leaving 220,000 people without electricity.

Five days later, 17,000 customers still were without power when a second storm dumped heavy wet snow and knocked out power to more than 350,000 customer statewide.