With winter just around the corner, the Pennsylvania Electric Co., a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., is inspecting and completing maintenance on weather-sensitive equipment to help enhance system resiliency and service reliability for customers in its 31-county western and central Pennsylvania service area.
Winter’s frigid temperatures can increase demand for electricity, and heavy snow, wind and ice have the potential to cause damage to poles, wires and substations, requiring crews to make repairs in difficult conditions.
Completing inspections and maintenance of equipment before the snow falls can help keep power flowing to customers.
“Our preparations do not end with inspecting electrical infrastructure and preparing our vehicles for winter operations,” said Nick Austin, Penelec regional president. “Employee and public safety are our top priority.
“Ours is an unforgiving business, so we review cold-weather procedures and time-proven safety measures with our line workers and other field employees to help ensure not only their safety, but that of our customers during winter.”
Fall work includes inspecting heaters for substation components such as capacitor banks, circuit breakers and gas- and oil-filled transformers.
Certain larger substations have buildings that house remote-controlled relay equipment, which are winterized and inspected to ensure their heating systems are ready for the season.
Meanwhile, substation electricians diligently inspect batteries used to power relays that sense faults on the network and motors that automatically operate switches to isolate those problems, helping to prevent service interruptions or limit their size and scope.
Crews use thermal-imaging cameras to detect hot spots invisible to the naked eye on equipment that could malfunction as customers crank up their heaters to combat the cold.
Mechanics inspect bucket trucks – the trusted workhorses of the company’s fleet – to ensure they are safe to operate and ready to roll on snow-covered roads and freezing temperatures.
Special emphasis is placed on the condition of tires and air brakes, which can freeze up if moisture is present. Snow removal equipment is checked as well, to ensure that a simple detail like ensuring access to substations, clear work areas and sidewalks at our service centers and other facilities is not overlooked.
Helicopter patrols also are completing inspections on approximately 2,500 miles of FirstEnergy transmission lines located in the Penelec area.
The inspections are designed to look for damaged wire, broken cross arms, failed insulators and other hardware problems invisible from the ground. Any potential reliability issues identified during the inspection can then be addressed.
Tree trimming throughout the year also helps meet the rigors of winter operations by maintaining proper clearances around electrical systems and helping to protect against tree-related outages.
Penelec tree contractors have trimmed about 3,700 circuit miles of electric lines this year and are on track to complete nearly 4,300 total miles of trimming by the end of 2020.
In addition to preparing equipment and vehicles for winter, managers review cold-weather safety procedures with field employees, including how to traverse slippery conditions to avoid slips and falls.
They are also reminded to hydrate and take frequent breaks in warm trucks to avoid frostbite and maintain sharp mental focus. Particular emphasis is placed on safe winter driving to ensure crews arrive safely to the work site.
FirstEnergy is dedicated to safety, reliability and operational excellence. Its 10 electric distribution companies form one of the nation’s largest investor-owned electric systems, serving customers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, Maryland and New York.
The company’s transmission subsidiaries operate approximately 24,500 miles of transmission lines that connect the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. Visit FirstEnergy online at www.firstenergycorp.com and follow FirstEnergy on Twitter @FirstEnergyCorp.