ConEd to spend $1bn in post-Sandy efforts to strengthen grid

To address vulnerabilities to major weather events, Consolidated Edison (NYSE:ED) is investing $1bn in hardening the transmission and distribution systems in the 2013-2016 period, according to Bob Schimmenti, vice president of engineering and planning.

That investment will be back-end loaded to give the company time to vet the infrastructure that needs to be addressed.

“We’re looking at critical circuits that feed certain infrastructure and those circuits that are routinely impacted severely by major storms,” Schimmenti told TransmissionHub.

The company is working with municipal utilities to identify those circuits, he said. “We’re going to go through that vetting process and purposely putting spend in the later years so we can spend about two years in design,” he said.

The company has already identified one course of action – to separate flood-prone areas of the system from nonflood-prone areas, Schimmenti said.

During Superstorm Sandy, ConEd had a plan to de-energize three underground networks that were exposed to the possibility of flooding. “What we observed was there were portions of customers within those networks that did not get flooded,” Schimmenti said. “We decided to separate through remote operated switches the flood-prone areas [from] nonflood-prone areas,” he said, adding that the company already has designed the separation and has the equipment to perform it. ConEd plans to begin the work at the end of this year and complete it by the end of 2014, depending on regulatory approval.

The company filed an application with the New York Public Service Commission to undertake the capital program, and a decision is expected “toward the end of this year,” Schimmenti said. 

Superstorm Sandy has changed the conversation with respect to addressing infrastructure needs, Schimmenti said. “There is much more interest in mitigating and responding to these large events,” he said. “The top five storms that we’ve experienced in terms of customer outages have occurred in the last three-and-a-half years, with Sandy being the largest at 1.1m customers. Irene was 14 months before that [and] was the second largest at 200,000 customers, so certainly we are seeing some sort of pattern with more acute and intense storms than we’ve seen.”

Schimmenti said he expected to see more alignment between utilities, local governments and other utilities, including telecommunications and gas utilities, as a result of recent severe weather events.

Technology will play an important role in meeting reliability needs during severe weather events, he said.

“I do see technology becoming an enabler to improve efficiencies and the ability to have the customers linked more directly to the utility in ways that have not been achieved in the past,” he said.

That includes sharing information and moving toward sharing operational issues, he said, adding that in doing so, the company will be able to leverage distributed generation at the customer level to the benefit of the utility and other customers. 

To that end, the company is undertaking an external communications effort to educate customers on the benefits of and set expectations for its infrastructure plans, Schimmenti said. 


About Rosy Lum 525 Articles
Rosy Lum, Analyst for TransmissionHub, has been covering the U.S. energy industry since 2007. She began her career in energy journalism at SNL Financial, for which she established a New York news desk. She covered topics ranging from energy finance and renewable policies and incentives, to master limited partnerships and ETFs. Thereafter, she honed her energy and utility focus at the Financial Times' dealReporter, where she covered and broke oil and gas and utility mergers and acquisitions.