Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) will invest more than $200 million to improve the reliability of its infrastructure, the company announced Tuesday.
The utility will invest in upgrades to distribution circuits, underground cables and substations, as well as improve its tree-trimming program.
The company came under fire in the wake of Hurricane Irene, when customers and some elected officials complained of power outages lasting for days.
The company's president, Don Lynch, told Patch that the planned upgrades will help prevent outages during severe storms by strengthening redundancy in the company's infrastructure and lessening the wait time for repairs since additional substations and more lines will be constructed.
"Everything we're doing is meant to make our system stronger," Lynch said, adding that the company considered suggestions from customers and local mayors when deciding on an upgrade plan.
A significant part of the infrastructure investment will be a renewed focus on tree trimming, Lynch said. The company will work to trim trees within areas it reserves the right to access, and work with property owners – including residential and municipal customers – to gain access to trees outside its reserved "trimming corridor."
"A lot of the outages [during Irene] were really caused by trees outside of our trimming corridor," Lynch said.
Among planned system improvements is a new transformer foundation at the Larabee substation in Howell, one of the largest projects included in the round of upgrades.
Lynch said the substation will be upgraded to 115,000 volts, improving reliability for Howell and many surrounding communities.
Distribution circuits in Berkeley Township and the Whiting section of Manchester will also receive upgrades, Lynch said.
The company will not increase manpower as part of its investment, however.
Lynch said that during catastrophic events such as Hurricane Irene, the company can tap fellow subsidiaries of FirstEnergy Corporation – JCP&L's parent company – from states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio to provide assistance.
"With a major catastrophe, every utility depends on outside resources to restore," Lynch said.
Lynch said despite the poor economy, JCP&L has maintained its manpower levels and continues an apprentice program at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft to keep staffing levels intact.
The company's announcement comes on the heels of a recently-completed project to repair or replace 10,000 street lights that became damaged or burnt out in the wake of Irene and an October snow storm in North Jersey, said Ron Morano, a company spokesman.
Morano said the company also plans on inspecting large distribution and sub-transmission utility poles this spring, with replacements for aging poles slated to be in place by fall.