West Penn Projects Aim to Reduce Number and Duration of Power Outages

By: Frances Borsodi Zajac |

West Penn Power is completing work on power line and substation projects, part of a program to reduce the number and duration of power outages for its 720,000 customers.

Valued at $21 million, the work involves enhanced protective devices on wires and poles, rebuilding electric lines, including replacing damaged insulators, poles, cross arms and wire, and installing automated and remote control devices, as explained in a press release.

The undertaking includes work in Uniontown and Charleroi as well as throughout West Penn’s 24-county service area.

“Some of the work was done in March, some done in April and June and some is going on now but it will all be completed by the end of the calendar year,’’ said Todd Meyers, company spokesman.

These 2017 projects are part of West Penn’s $88 million, 2016-20 Long-Term Infrastructure Improvement Plan, approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

David W. McDonald, West Penn president, said in the release, “The additional projects complement the work we already do each year to enhance the reliability of our electric system. This year, we are targeting work on higher-voltage distribution lines that interconnect with multiple substations as a way of limiting outages, along with installing equipment that can be operated remotely to help speed the restoration process.’’

Uniontown is one of four substations receiving new electronic circuit breakers or “reclosers’’ that can be operated remotely from the company dispatch center. This gives operators the ability to restore power more quickly and efficiently than if a crew was needed to investigate, the release explained.

Altogether, the new reclosers cost about $3.7 million, including $720,000 for six circuits in Uniontown as well as $960,000 for eight in Hempfield Township, Westmoreland County; $960,000 for eight in Kittanning, Armstrong County; and $720,000 for six in Washington.

Meyers said the Uniontown substation is located on the north side of town. Areas the Uniontown reclosers handle include Fan Hollow, Gallatin, Mount Vernon, Oakland, Oliver and Phillips.

The release explained, “Reclosers open the line when a system irregularity is detected to stop the flow of electricity and then automatically reclose to check if the problem, such as a tree branch contacting the line, is still present. The new electronic reclosers can selectively open certain sections of line, which can help limit the number of customers affected by an outage.’’

Meyers said, “It’s all about limiting the size, scope and duration of power outages using smart equipment and cutting-edge technology.’’

West Penn reported the Tyhurst development near Charleroi will have a half mile of underground cable installed, costing about $20,000. The company is replacing underground residential distribution cable with insulated, corrosion-resistant cable “to help prevent outages and reduce the time necessary to locate and repair faults beneath the ground,’’ the release noted.

In addition, about two miles of underground cable will be replaced in Quail Acres in Washington County, costing about $480,000. In the Saybrook Village subdivision near Greensburg, about $160,000 will be spent to install more than a mile of underground cable and new above-ground junction boxes outfitted with fuses to limit the scope of outages.

Remote-controlled switches are being installed on higher-voltage distribution circuits, costing about $3.6 million, to allow automatic and remote switching to help limit the number of customers affected when an outage occurs, the company reported.

New controls will be installed at 46 switching locations in substations and on overhead electric lines throughout the service area. They are engineered to shorten the duration of outages and allow for large blocks of customers to be more quickly restored. Meyers said these areas include Point Marion and Chalk Hill.

The company is spending about $2.7 million to install new fuses, reclosers and wire on about 60 overhead lines, particularly at points where distribution circuits branch into smaller sections, the release reported. The new equipment automatically opens when sensing system irregularities to stop the flow of electricity, helping to limit outages and reduce the duration.

West Penn is rebuilding portions of 56 distribution circuits at a cost of about $2.4 million, including replacing electrical components, such as switches, cross arms, transformers, reclosers, capacitors and insulators to help prevent outages caused by equipment issues, the release noted.

About $2 million will be spent to replace damaged insulators, cross arms and wire on higher-voltage lines that feed distribution substations.

Batteries in 15 distributions substations throughout the service area will be replaced, costing about $230,000, to provide back-up power for controls and relays during outages.

New arrestors to protect transformers from lightning damage in 29 substations will be installed for about $120,000.

Meyers explained the LTIIP is included in the $235 million in infrastructure projects for 2017 that was previously announced to help enhance reliability throughout the company’s service area.

West Penn Projects Aim to Reduce Number and Duration of Power Outages