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Rewiring America

T&D investments prioritize reliability and load growth.

Fortnightly Magazine - November 2008

Gausman says the studies indicated that without significant improvements, the company’s transmission lines in the Delmarva Peninsula would be overloaded by 2013.

Load growth in the three Pepco territories, he says, surpasses that of surrounding territories. While the average load growth for utilities within PJM is currently 1.3 percent, Gausman says the average for Pepco, Delmarva and Atlantic City is 1.5 to 2.5 percent. Atlantic City, he adds, could see up to 5 percent growth in the coming years due to new development.

The MAPP project is still undergoing public reviews. If all goes as planned, the build-out will be completed in four stages over four years from 2011 to 2014.

ITC Invests

As an independent for-profit electric transmission company, ITC has been investing in upgrades as well. Since 2003, ITC has invested roughly $1 billion in infrastructure improvements. About $900 million went to upgrades in Michigan, with the other $100 million put toward the company’s operations in Iowa.

“The system, by and large, is old,” says ITC Holdings CEO Joseph L. Welch. “The average age of transmission circuit breakers and power lines is more than 25 years.”

In 2003, the new company analyzed some 2,500 miles of overhead and underground transmission facilities in southeastern Michigan. The project involved collecting and analyzing data on everything from substations and transformers, to circuit breakers and SCADA systems. The analyses were used to determine when and how to upgrade various parts of the system.

“In Michigan, our focus was to look at those areas that needed major upgrades to improve reliability. The problem is the areas that need the most work usually can’t sustain a prolonged shutdown. The load is critical and there are no other feeds coming in,” Welch says.

As a result, upgrades in Michigan’s heavily industrialized areas sometimes required preliminary meetings with local manufacturers to execute improvement projects around their work schedules. ITC’s people would work on nights and weekends or, if feasible, try to take advantage of a manufacturer’s vacation shutdown.

“Say, for example, we need to change out a circuit breaker. We might install the new wiring first and perform the actual change out later,” Welch explains. “In a perfect world, we would finish that project in several days. But in most cases, it takes us several weeks. With other infrastructure upgrades, such as a new highway, inconveniencing the customer is acceptable. But in our industry, businesses can’t afford a prolonged shut down. So you have to do your upgrades in small bites.”

Like Pepco and NU, ITC also has a major infrastructure project in the works, in this case a proposed $2.6 billion project with AEP. The plan is to extend an existing 765-kV transmission system in the southwest corner of Michigan east across Michigan and then south where it eventually would connect to an existing 765-kV line in Ohio.

Welch says the proposed network would free up capacity on the existing 345-kV system in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and add as much as 5,000 MW of additional transmission capacity throughout the region.

As a result, ITC and AEP are