It was once said: Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving; we get stronger and more resilient.
Superstorm Sandy, a year ago this week, and Hurricane Irene the year before presented us with a new reality. Those two storms ranked among our worst ever. In 2011, we also faced spring tornadoes, severe flooding in parts of our state from Tropical Storm Lee, and then the freakish October snowstorm while we were still enjoying our fall foliage. Fortunately, we’ve been given a reprieve with our weather for much of this year!
For PPL Electric Utilities, our customers and people throughout the Middle Atlantic States, Sandy will be long remembered.
With destructive force, lengthy power outages and widespread property damage, Sandy disrupted the lives of many locally. It reminded us we provide such an essential service for our customers. Over the past year, we’ve been committed to improvements to our infrastructure, emergency preparedness and how we communicate. We take our responsibility seriously to keep the lights on and prepare well for storms.
Irene made us better. Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm exposed areas in which we needed to raise our game. Following those storms, we significantly improved our customer service and customer communications capabilities. Irene and Sandy both generated more than a million customer contacts in less than a week. We upgraded our technology, enhanced our website and increased our public outreach. With such a large-scale recovery, we also needed to better manage the flow of work to more efficiently assess the massive damage and repair electric service. Those lessons helped us tremendously.
What we learned from Sandy. Responding to meteorological mayhem involves rapidly scaling up our operations to clean up and restore power, along with considerable logistical support for the field. More than 2,800 contractors and other utility workers, more than ever before, joined PPL Electric Utilities’ dedicated workforce in the around-the-clock campaign.
Furthermore, such very large storms involve greater coordination and collaboration with local, state and federal government officials to address the numerous issues that arise. Those relationships must be established long before emergencies occur. Since Sandy, unprecedented collaboration has occurred with our state regulators, neighboring utilities, county and state emergency management agencies and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Fortunately, before Irene or Sandy, PPL Electric identified the need to invest more in its infrastructure and developed ambitious plans to upgrade our facilities. The state supported the initiative, enacting Act 11 to encourage greater utility investment to improve safety and reliability. With a $3.8 billion commitment over five years, we’re executing our plan. As a result, over time, our system will be stronger, more reliable and storm resilient.
We cannot totally “storm-proof” our system, although our engineers are designing sturdier facilities based on new construction standards – bigger, taller poles, thicker conductors and more sensors, relays and automation.
Since Sandy, we’ve dedicated more funds for vegetation management and cleared trees along more than 6,000 miles of power lines. We appreciate the public support for this work, which will be ongoing to better protect our 40,000 miles of aerial lines.
After a successful pilot in the Harrisburg area, we’ve begun a five-year, $180 million plan to expand our use of smart grid technology along our distribution system. We’re replacing hundreds of older poles and critical substation equipment, rebuilding aging lines, adding more than 1,000 automated switches and other electronic devices, upgrading lightning protection and installing newer remote monitoring systems. Beyond the infrastructure that delivers the power everyone depends on, we’re upgrading the information technology behind the scenes, which became more critical during storms.
Superstorm Sandy remains fresh in our minds a year later. We realize the severe personal impact it had on our customers and the region. We learned a great deal from the experience. That’s our responsibility, and we’re committed to improve. The next time a major storm strikes, we expect it will have much less impact on all of us.