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Op-Ed: PSEG Chief on Lessons of Superstorm Sandy

Along with superstorm Sandy's hard lessons comes the challenge to move beyond the status quo and reinvent our energy future

by Ralph Izzo, chairman and CEO of PSEG

In wreaking devastation across New Jersey, superstorm Sandy challenged us more than any other natural disaster in PSEG’s 109-year history. We have faced many daunting storms before, but Sandy exceeded them all in size and destructive fury. Over a two-week period our employees, assisted by thousands of workers from 24 states and Canada, made more than 2.1 million electric service restorations -- a record for any utility in the country. About 48,000 trees had to be removed or trimmed and 2,400 utility poles repaired or replaced.

On top of this, Sandy left us with a massive rebuilding task. We estimate the costs of restoring our distribution and transmission system at $250 million to $300 million as a result of Sandy’s blow and the subsequent Nor’easter. However, this does not include the costs of damage to some of our electric-generating facilities, or the costs of replacing life-shortened equipment down the road.

We have begun to take a hard look at Sandy’s lessons and how we can best prepare for future storms, and otherwise improve our responsiveness so as to better serve all of our customers. It will not be adequate merely to rebuild our infrastructure as it was, but rather with a view to strengthening resilience and sustainability.

Where to go from here? Ensuring safe, reliable, economic and green energy over the long term is the vision that motivates the dedicated men and women of PSEG. With that vision in mind, many issues need to be considered on New Jersey’s path to a sustainable energy future. Here are seven of those issues.

First, energy efficiency is important regardless of what else we do. Energy efficiency improvements not only help the environment, but reduce utility bills and strengthen economic competitiveness. Yet consumers and businesses pass up countless energy efficiency investments every day because they have other priorities. Utilities can help overcome barriers to energy efficiency, as we have been doing through a highly successful program that is helping many New Jersey hospitals save millions of dollars in energy costs per year.

Second, there are green energy solutions that have costs but also deliver substantial benefits, including jobs and cleaner air. New Jersey has been a leading location for solar energy development. Finding ways to continue this leadership at a manageable pace would reap a growing harvest of green energy and jobs. We have been working to do this by installing thousands of solar panels on landfills, rooftops, and other underutilized space, and also by making financing more readily available for solar projects.

Third, the time is ripe for a serious look at smarter systems. We have sophisticated high-voltage networks, but still can’t remotely tell if a tree has fallen on a wire between the street and a customer’s house. There is increasing evidence that where it has been deployed, smart grid technology can make a substantial difference -- helping identify outages, isolate and fix problems more efficiently, and keep customers up-to-date with pertinent information.

Fourth, building more redundancy into our distribution system can be a key to providing additional layers of protection. This could involve configuring or designing more circuits able to feed customers from multiple directions, or other steps such as building new, critical facilities on higher ground. Currently, we are building a new substation inland in Newark.

Fifth, hardening up storm barriers and floodgates should be part of the agenda, as well. Much of our existing infrastructure was originally developed in the same areas as our ports, rivers, and cities where most people lived and commercial activity was concentrated. This made sense at the time, but many systems will need to be reinforced to ensure survivability.

Continue reading at NJSpotlight.com

Davie January 01, 2013 at 05:23 PM
One easily gets the impression that even 50 years from now if another similar storm hits the State we will be having the same exact conversation. The system as it exists today is too fragile and subject to the vagaries of mother nature.
Phil Brooks January 01, 2013 at 09:12 PM
One easily gets the impression that if a similar storm hit tomorrow, PSE&G will be shrugging their shoulders, making the same mistakes over again and would be left wondering where they went wrong.
dara brown January 01, 2013 at 10:39 PM
No worries for their shareholders. The profits are guaranteed. We will simply have another rate hike to pay for the storm. This massive storm was not a surprise. It was accurately forecasted well in advance. PSEG should have had crews from the other utilities prepositioned, or at least on standby, so that once the damage was evaluated, they could have been put to work immediately, rather than over a week later. As far as 'green solutions', all of those ugly solar panels installed on the poles apparently are not putting anything into the grid when the electrical power is off. Maybe thats due to safety considerations, but I think the the response of PSEG to this storm was very poor. And the real joke is that when you make an application to install a standby natural gas generator, there are many parts of the infrastructure that have inadequate gas pressure! (despite PSEG tearing up every road in town to put in new mains last year!)
Brian January 02, 2013 at 04:50 PM
From what I can tell there are really 2 different issues for PSE&G that were raised by the storm. The first is the expensive infrastructure component. This is outlined above and involves PSE&G investing in improving delivery systems and making it more efficient, redundant and modern. The second is communication. Most of the complaints with PSE&G were not due to power being out it was the lack of communication about when it would be on. It is impossible to create a plan for keeping your family safe and warm when you have no information about when power will be back. "Within 3 weeks" is not an acceptable answer. A relatively small investment in better "reverse 911" ability to automate messages to specific customers via text or email might be a great way to improve service. The smart grid would also help in this, although even without it, you could still target messages to specific neighborhoods. In turn, the communication would also reduce the number of calls to PSE&G during an outage. An alternative would be to invest in a backup phone bank system to be able to respond to customers during a disaster.
KenC January 03, 2013 at 03:39 AM
PSE&G did send daily emails during the outage. Although the information was too vague and frequently unrealistic. True reverse 911 would only work for land line users who still had power on their phone lines.

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