– John O’Connell, Vice President – Transmission & Distribution
Nobody who was on the East Coast on Oct. 29, 2012, will ever forget the devastation Superstorm Sandy inflicted across the area. On Long Island and in the Rockaways, the massive storm surge and heavy, sustained winds did unprecedented damage to the electric system.
When PSEG Long Island first began serving the 1.1 million customers in this service area on Jan. 1, 2014, we knew we had a mandate to improve the strength and resilience of the grid, and transform the way that customers communicate with their electric company.
On the seventh anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, I want to tell you a little bit about how PSEG Long Island has been living up to that mandate with significant upgrades to infrastructure and communications.
Our employees have been hard at work for almost six years. Each week, approximately 4 miles of the electric system is hardened against storms, 44 miles of trees are trimmed and 120 old poles are replaced.
We took the lessons learned from Sandy and launched several programs to strengthen the grid and improve system reliability. The largest of these has been a storm-hardening project funded through $729 million in funding from FEMA. More than 320 distribution circuits are being upgraded or completed and more than 938 circuit miles have been storm hardened. Crews improving these circuits have:
- Replaced 24,815 poles with new poles capable of withstanding winds up to 135 mph—which is in the lower range of a category 4 hurricane.
- Used shorter cross arms on poles to help deflect falling limbs, instead of cradling them.
- Restrung 2,382 miles of thicker insulated wires to lessen the likelihood a branch will cause an electric problem if it touches the electric wires.
- Installed 887 automatic switching units to minimize the number of customers that are affected when equipment fails. The units reroute power around the failed equipment, isolating the immediate area where the damage occurred, bringing the lights back on for the surrounding customers.
During storms in 2019, these circuits experienced 42% fewer outages than unimproved circuits thanks to PSEG Long Island’s storm-hardening efforts.
Upgrading equipment is just one way PSEG Long Island has improved the electric system. To further protect against storm damage, arborists from PSEG Long Island’s Tree Trimming program now trim the entire system on a four-year cycle, instead of the previous five-year cycle. They work throughout the year to identify and trim tree limbs in rights of way and along easements that could potentially cause outages during or after a storm.
We have already completed one full trim of the electric system and are about halfway through the second trim. In 2018 alone, we trimmed hazardous tree limbs along 3,000 miles of overhead lines, reducing vegetation-related outages on those circuits by 45%. We removed more than 11,000 hazardous trees and/or large limbs in accordance with the industry best practice clearance standard. In addition, a new vine mitigation program identified, cut and treated more than 3,000 vine locations.
Superstorm Sandy also revealed the crucial importance of communicating with customers during major weather events. PSEG Long Island has significantly enhanced communications with stakeholders at every level. Communications include:
- A more responsive social media presence that allows customers to report outages
- Direct communication with customers via email, automated phone calls and texts
- Scheduled media updates
- Coordination calls and dedicated liaisons for the many municipalities within the service area.
In 2018, we launched a new website with a modern, completely mobile design that’s more useful and easier to navigate. Our outage map was updated to include additional information, such as crew location, cause and restoration of outages. A new, interactive reliability layer was added to the map, detailing the improvement projects in progress throughout the service area. In addition, our customers can now manage accounts, pay bills and report an outage via the Amazon Alexa skill.
The anniversary of Superstorm Sandy will always be a reminder of how severe weather can get. With each passing year, I know PSEG Long Island will be able to report even more improvements that will make Long Island and the Rockaways stronger, safer and better able to recover from whatever Mother Nature dishes out.