Maryland utilities to improve resiliency, reliability of electric utility distribution infrastructure

Maryland state regulators are calling for utility companies to improve the resiliency and reliability of the electric utility distribution infrastructure in the state, in light of the outages endured after the June 29, 2012, derecho storm.

The storm interrupted electrical service to a significant portion of the state, causing some outages to last more than eight days, according to the state Public Service Commission’s (PSC) Feb. 27 order.

In a Feb. 27 statement, the PSC said at the storm’s peak, about 992,000 customers across Maryland experienced outages, adding that fallen trees or limbs interfered with overhead distribution lines and accounted for about 32 million hours of service interruption.

Pepco Holdings (NYSE:POM) subsidiary Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco), Exelon (NYSE:EXC) subsidiary Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) and Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) experienced the greatest percentages of customers affected at the peak at 77%, 35% and 37%, respectively.

The average duration of a customer service interruption for Pepco was 26 hours. BGE’s average customer outage duration was nearly one day longer than Pepco’s, and SMECO’s average customer outage duration was 14.5 hours, the PSC said.

“The stress of living without electricity was worsened by the extreme heat in the days following the derecho when the loss of air conditioning caused many to suffer greatly, especially the elderly and those with special medical conditions,” the PSC said in its order.

Two things were immediately evident, the PSC said: one, that the electric utility distribution infrastructure in the state, built up over the previous 100 years, is not resilient enough to withstand unscathed a storm the magnitude of the derecho; and two, a public increasingly dependent on electricity to meet their daily needs is not satisfied with the current infrastructure’s vulnerability.

The PSC directed BGE, Pepco Holdings’ subsidiaries Delmarva Power and Light and Pepco; Potomac Edison; SMECO; and Choptank Electric Cooperative to take certain actions now, propose shorter term plans to improve their systems’ reliability further, undertake detailed studies regarding their infrastructure and systems, and conduct cost/benefit analyses of plans for more major transformations of Maryland’s electric infrastructure into the future.

Nothing in the companies’ general preparedness or specific response to the derecho gives rise by itself to violations of state regulations that justifies further proceedings to consider civil penalties, the PSC said.

The companies will file annual performance reports by April 1, that will include, among other things, service restoration requirement information and results for the entire year.

Based on its review of those reports, the PSC will determine whether further action is justified based on the companies’ overall reliability performance for the year and, if appropriate, impose civil penalties.

The PSC also said a significant and unsatisfactory disconnect exists between the public’s expectations of distribution system reliability – and restoration efforts resulting from major outage events – and the ability of the present-day electric distribution systems to meet those expectations. Some of the companies are studying selective hardening of their systems and at least one of them continues to perform limited undergrounding of distribution lines in locations where feasible.

However, the PSC added, the companies should make a number of further improvements in the shorter term to improve reliability and conduct a comprehensive study of long-term improvements to improve reliability to an even greater extent.

The companies are to file, by May 31, plans outlining measures that could be completed in the next five years to accelerate reliability improvements to its distribution system, along with a cost/benefit analysis for each measure.

For the longer term, the PSC added, each company is to undertake more detailed studies that will serve as a platform for further proceedings to consider the appropriate standards for distribution system resistance and resilience.

By Aug. 30, the companies are to submit comprehensive studies of their respective distribution systems to determine what infrastructure or operational investments would be needed in order to reduce the number and duration of service interruptions after a major outage event to much lower levels and to determine the costs, economic and environmental, of achieving a system that is sufficiently durable and resilient.

Each company is to assess how and in what locations, and what elements of its system may need to be enhanced or hardened to result in restoration of service following a major outage event within a specified time frame to at least 95% of its customers, even for storms in which the total number of sustained interruptions is greater than 400,000 or 40% of the company’s total number of customers.

The PSC also said that the reports should include a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis that weighs the costs of improving the distribution system to the different levels of resilience against the costs to customers and the state.

The frequency of major outage events and their impacts on customers require that a certain level of major outage event data should be included in the system-average interruption duration index (SAIDI) and system-average interruption frequency index (SAIFI) service quality and reliability standards.

The PSC also said that each company is to perform a three-part analysis of its distribution system staffing, that is, a historical analysis, a detailed analysis of personnel dispatched during the derecho and an assessment of its major outage event preparedness, based on current staffing levels.

Each company is to determine the number and qualifications of personnel that are required to restore service within a specified time frame to at least 95% of its customers, even after storms in which the total number of sustained interruptions is greater than 400,000 or 40% of the company’s total number of customers, after taking into account the impact of full implementation of advanced metering infrastructure, for instance.

The PSC also said the companies are to submit, by March 29, a report on any improvements made to communications systems since the derecho and to submit, by May 31, a report on any further improvements planned and a timetable for completing such improvements.

Communication associated with special medical needs customers was inadequate following the derecho, the PSC said, adding that each company is to participate in work group sessions with PSC staff to gather from the appropriate state and local officials and emergency responders the information they need, among other things.

Staff is to prepare a report containing its findings and recommendations from those sessions.

Additionally, the PSC said that customers need to be able to more effectively plan their actions during outage events and the estimated times of restoration provided by the companies remain inadequate. Among other things, PSC said its staff is to draft proposed regulations to establish objective standards for estimated times of restoration.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 2929 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.