Hurricane Sandy: One year later

The devastation caused by Hurricane, or Superstorm, Sandy continues to be felt in communities across the East Coast, particularly in New Jersey, New York and the Northeast, almost a year after the storm made landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., on Oct. 29, 2012, as a post-tropical cyclone.

TransmissionHub recently spoke with utilities, RTOs and others to discuss lessons learned from Sandy, possible solutions to avoid such damage in the future, including undergrounding transmission lines and creating microgrids, as well as actions taken since the storm, such as enhanced regulatory oversight of utilities.

“Superstorm Sandy was not only massive, but it combined with a cold front from the north, resulting in winter conditions that hampered restoration,” Tom Kirkpatrick, American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP) vice president for customer services, marketing and distribution services, said. “During a significant event of this nature, energy efficiency and demand response will not contribute to reliability.”

Renewable energy sources may have allowed some customers to retain service if the renewables were deployed at the point of service, but, by and large, the physical damage to infrastructure that occurs during a Sandy-like storm is difficult to avoid, he said.

“Electric system hardening, which is strengthening of the system through design and maintenance practices, would reduce the impact of major events, but it is unlikely that the industry will be able to dramatically minimize the impacts from a massive, devastating storm such as Sandy,” Kirkpatrick said.

Bob Bradish, AEP vice president of transmission grid development, said that AEP is factoring the widespread ramifications of extreme weather into the planning process.

“Specifically, we are reviewing facilities that have been impacted by recent events in our service territory … and the root causes of outages,” he said. “We have identified facilities, largely local transmission (138-kV and below), that were affected by these storms and have contributed directly to end-use customer outages.”

Working with AEP distribution and operating companies, AEP has developed a portfolio of transmission and distribution projects that are designed to provide long-term solutions for some of its most vulnerable areas, Bradish said, adding that the types of projects include providing a second source to a radial transmission line.

Jon Jipping, executive vice president and COO of ITC Holdings (NYSE:ITC), said that while ITC was not directly affected by Sandy, one of the key lessons learned from the event is the need for “good, quality reliability and service.”

There is a need to maintain and upgrade the infrastructure, as well as hardening the system where appropriate, he said.

A few of ITC’s operating companies have old lines that have performed well over time, but are due to be replaced. “Here in Michigan, we’ve had several line rebuilds where we’ve replaced … 50-, 60-, 70-year-old wood structures with new steel structures and that in and of itself is a much stronger system,” Jipping said.

He added, “[W]hen you keep up on the maintenance and keep even the assets that are maybe 10-, 20-, 30-years old in good-working shape, they’re going to withstand those times of extreme weather or extreme heat.”

New York

Public Service Commission

The New York Public Service Commission (PSC) has taken several important steps to improve and strengthen the state’s large electric utilities during and after major storm events, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted in August.

Those actions stem from recommendations made by the Moreland Commission on Utility Storm Preparation and Response, instituted by Cuomo to investigate the electric utilities’ management, preparation and response to the major storms that have affected the state over the past two years, including Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, according to Cuomo’s Aug. 15 statement.

In March, Cuomo announced the strengthening of Public Service Law requiring the filing and approval of annual storm response plans, increasing penalties and giving power to the PSC to revoke certificates. In April, the PSC noted, Cuomo announced a new utility scorecard to hold utilities accountable for storm response.

The PSC also said that it has ordered the six major investor-owned utilities operating in the state, as part of their revised emergency response plans due on Dec. 15, to implement reforms to issues identified in the Moreland Commission’s final report. The main reforms include that electric utilities should improve their development and timely issuance of localized estimated restoration times.

Among other things, the PSC said that in February, PSC staff directed Consolidated Edison’s (NYSE:ED) Consolidated Edison Company of New York (Con Edison) and other utilities to describe the specific temporary and permanent measures companies were taking to harden energy distribution systems against future storm damage in preparation for the 2013 hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

On Oct. 21, Con Edison said it has made numerous improvements to its energy delivery systems as part of a $1bn plan to fortify critical infrastructure and protect New Yorkers from major storms. The company has, for instance, built more than a mile of concrete flood walls around stations and critical equipment and added nearly 2,000 overhead isolation devices to reduce customer outages.

National Grid

All of the above – that is, more transmission, renewable energy, demand response/smart grid and energy efficiency – is needed to maintain reliability during an event such as Sandy, Fred Kuebler, director of U.S. media relations with National Grid USA, said.

“In addition to hardening our infrastructure, we also need to think about going ‘beyond the meter’ in these extreme storms when customers’ property can be so damaged that they aren’t even safe to receive power or gas,” he said. “After Superstorm Sandy, we quickly realized that many of our gas customers in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island [in New York] were in [this] predicament. That’s why, somewhat outside the requirements or incentives of our regulated charter – National Grid’s electric and gas workers partnered with a small army of local housing inspectors, plumbers and electricians, and went home to home, helping make each residence whole and safe to once again receive natural gas for heating, cooking and hot water.”

National Grid is a subsidiary of National Grid plc.

New Jersey

Public Service Electric and Gas

Sandy did not really cause issues for Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) on the transmission side; it was the company’s distribution system that was really affected, PSE&G spokesperson Kristine Lloyd said.

The company has a number of transmission projects underway in which switching stations are being upgraded to handle higher voltage lines, she said, adding that since the storm, the company has altered its plans to reflect new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines for flood levels.

New electrical equipment is installed on concrete slabs that are higher off the ground. For example, she added, at PSE&G’s Sewaren switching station, the company has raised equipment about 9 feet to meet FEMA guidelines.

PSE&G also has a statewide initiative underway to rewire its electric system by adding 69-kV lines that can carry electricity for added capacity and reliability.

“Although our 69-kV upgrades are not being done specifically in response to storms, the new equipment is installed on taller, stronger poles that also have lightning protection and fiber optic wires that improve communication between substations,” Lloyd added.

PSE&G is a subsidiary of Public Service Enterprise Group (NYSE:PEG).

Jersey Central Power & Light

By every measure, Sandy was the “biggest, most ferocious storm” that Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L), a FirstEnergy (NYSE:FE) company has ever experienced, Ron Morano, a JCP&L spokesperson, said.

Sandy caused more customer outages than 2011’s Hurricane Irene and October snowstorm combined, for instance.

Since Sandy, JCP&L has enhanced its infrastructure and equipment, as well as added new personnel, upgraded its processes and improved communication to customers and government officials, he said.

“JCP&L is in the midst of a multi-year, $200m investment to upgrade our transmission system – it’s called our Local Infrastructure Transmission Enhancement program,” Morano said, adding that the company is adding new 115-kV lines, new 230-kV facilities, adding redundancy to its system and working to meet demand of future growth.

Atlantic City Electric

Atlantic City Electric is looking to make its system more resilient through duplication of some services, Lendel Jones, regional communications director, said. For instance, if one substation goes down, people could get power from another one. The company also has an aggressive tree trimming program; is replacing wood poles with steel poles; and undergrounding lines where possible.

Extreme weather considerations such as extreme wind and ice are already a requirement for new or rebuilt transmission lines. However, Jones said, recent extreme weather events have reinforced the need to upgrade aging infrastructure that did not have the same requirements when installed. The intent of this work is to address hardening transmission pole line infrastructure by upgrading to a steel pole and concrete or steel caisson foundation solution, correcting foundation stability problems in non-tidal and tidal wetlands and considering placing circuits or portions thereof underground in especially sensitive areas.

Atlantic City Electric is a subsidiary of Pepco Holdings (NYSE:POM).

Vermont

Green Mountain Power

Having good vegetation management programs and relocating off-road distribution lines to the side of the road are among the ways to maintain reliability during severe storms, Dorothy Schnure, Green Mountain Power (GMP) corporate spokesperson, said.

Other ways include adding feeder back-up capability to more areas and storm hardening projects – rebuilding lines with a type of construction that is more resilient to storms.

“Smart grid investments can help us identify more quickly where damage is and restore service more quickly,” she said. “In general, demand response, renewable energy and energy efficiency don’t currently contribute significantly in improving reliability during major storms, in the future a combination of energy storage and renewable energy systems might become a useful way to provide back-up service by allowing areas to operate as a microgrid during a major restoration event.”

GMP continues to look at ways to harden its system against extreme weather and continues to look for ways to improve its response efforts.

“We are much more aggressive pre-deploying resources,” Schnure added. “In [Hurricane] Irene, much of the damage was water and it caused us to look at infrastructure and think about where we locate facilities relative to floodplains. Another issue we addressed as a result of Irene was how we respond when access to our facilities is disrupted. We are also looking at more loop feeds that helps us restore power faster when there is damage to our transmission system.”

On microgrids

Microgrids typically are equipped with generation and/or storage capability and may be configured to provide electricity in a standalone mode, David Flanagan, manager, media and community relations with the New York ISO (NYISO), said.

Electricity users who deploy microgrids are expected to have increased resiliency after weather events.

The NYISO is initiating a comprehensive assessment of “behind-the-meter” distributed energy resources in New York, including microgrids and other technologies that allow customers to supply their own energy while still maintaining a connection to the grid, he added.

The study will examine the market potential and drivers of various technologies, relevant regulatory and environmental policies for those technologies and the treatment of those distributed energy resources by wholesale markets in other regions. A workshop for market participants and stakeholders is scheduled for Dec. 13.

Kuebler noted that the designing and building of microgrids is a customer-specific project for any utility.

“We are focused [on] grid modernization that makes the grid smarter,” he said. “While updating the grid cannot physically protect it from high winds or trees falling on power lines, it can help us restore power to our customers faster and, in some cases, even minimize the number of customers affected by an electrical outage.”

Lloyd noted that PSE&G is partnering with the city of Hoboken, N.J., on an effort to design an energy resilient “smart grid” that would improve the resiliency of the city’s critical infrastructure.

While PSE&G is proud of its system’s reliability, the extreme weather in the past two years calls for extraordinary measures to harden the system, she said.

“This effort is a perfect complement to our proposed Energy Strong filing, which would protect Hoboken’s substations from the type of water damage we had during Sandy,” she said. “Again, in this case, it was our distribution system that was affected by the storm.”

Jones said microgrids could possibly help get the power back on quicker and it is something that Atlantic City Electric is beginning to look at as it continues to look at ways to diversify its energy portfolio.

Schnure said, “We don’t have any full-fledged microgrids, but they could play a role in allowing parts of the system to come back online without having the rest of the main system back.”

Kirkpatrick noted that microgrids could provide local resiliency and redundancy to the electric grid for a limited number of customers. However, he added, such applications are very costly to own and operate with current technologies. Complex integration of microgrids and local distribution systems is necessary to implement in concert with existing systems, he said.

Undergrounding a solution?

Underground transmission lines can benefit by not being exposed to fallen trees, wind and ice, but can be more susceptible to other extreme weather events such as flooding, Jones said.

Restoration on an underground transmission system can result in longer outages compared to an overhead system due to the complexity of identifying and repairing the source of a fault within an underground line.

“As part of the transmission circuit hardening program, Atlantic City Electric is upgrading some select existing underground transmission line sections and identifying any potential areas that may benefit from future underground transmission lines,” Jones added. “Underground transmission lines can range anywhere from six to 10 times more expensive than an overhead transmission line depending on voltage, site conditions and construction techniques.”

Kuebler said National Grid evaluates underground transmission lines on a case-by-case basis, adding: “While underground transmission lines are somewhat immune to weather, faults in underground lines take much longer to locate and repair. Repairing damage to underground lines can sometimes take weeks as opposed to hours or days for above-ground transmission lines.”

Schnure said undergrounding distribution and transmission lines could be useful in some areas, but the significant increase in cost is an issue.

Bradish said that while underground transmission lines are safe from trees and wind, they are vulnerable to flooding and may be more difficult to restore quickly if damaged. In much of AEP’s rural service territory, he said, the transmission lines are relatively long and costs are likely to be prohibitive. Underground lines would be considered an option, but the added cost for underground lines would have to be weighed against other overhead alternative solutions, he said.

Morano noted that there is no guarantee that undergrounding lines and other equipment would prevent significant damage, adding that Sandy caused significant flooding.

Jipping noted that underground transmission is really only applied where overhead transmission cannot be installed, adding that underground transmission has limitations.

“You can’t underground a line for hundreds and hundreds of miles – it technologically won’t work,” he said, adding that undergrounding is “really only done in the most dense urban areas, like we have here in southeast Michigan, Chicago, New York [and] parts of Washington, D.C.”

When it comes to storms like Sandy, he said of the grid, “if we build the overhead structures on transmission right, get the right-of-ways cleared, and maintain it properly, it will withstand pretty severe storms and that’s what I mean when I say we have to keep up on upgrading the infrastructure. That old model-T that we’ve got doesn’t stand up like it use to.”

Lessons learned, areas in need of improvement

Kuebler noted that the biggest lesson National Grid learned from Sandy is the idea that perhaps it should be thinking beyond the meter for its most severely affected customers during those extreme storms.

“Beyond that, we have made several enhancements to our emergency preparedness and storm response plans as [a] result of lessons learned from Sandy and other recent major weather events,” he said, adding, “While we are always seeking to make improvements, we feel we have made a tremendous amount of progress in our emergency response planning over the past year.”

Flanagan said that during the Sandy investigation, the NYISO did not find any conditions that would have resulted in the NYISO being out of compliance with NERC standards, Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC) criteria or New York State Reliability Council (NYSRC) reliability rules.

While the NYISO is not an asset owner and cannot comment on asset-specific or distribution-related items, the NYISO notes certain lessons learned associated with system operations, including that the emphasis on gathering and maintaining weather forecasts was valuable and will be continued in future extreme weather events.

Also, Flanagan added, the regional conference calls hosted by NPCC were beneficial and will allow better understanding of the operating conditions, transmission status, generation status, operating margins, external transfer limit and other aspects of the state of the interconnection.

Among other things, he noted that the process of soliciting operational risk from storm surge to specific generators, when employed along with the continual weather monitoring, was useful to prepare system operators for likely impacts of the storm. The NYISO will expand the data collection to transmission facilities and expand the footprint surveyed for future events.

Schnure noted that major storms reinforce the importance of resiliency planning and of pre-deploying resources in a storm. They also reinforce the importance of interface with emergency responders, which GMP does regularly.

“We are continuing to work on resiliency of our distribution system, including relocating cross-country lines to roads, storm hardening, reliability-based vegetation management programs, fine tuning our outage response capabilities and pursuing more accurate weather forecasting for impacts of weather events,” she added.

Jones said Atlantic City Electric is constantly evaluating its processes to identify best practices and new opportunities to improve customer reliability and the restoration process. The company held a regional storm preparedness tabletop exercise in June at its headquarters in Mays Landing, N.J., to gain feedback from the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) directors on ways to improve efficiencies between the company and the county OEMs during an emergency or weather event.

“Lessons learned include finding creative ways to keep our customers informed about outages and estimated times of restoration during a storm,” Jones said, adding that the company also learned more efficient ways of working through the process of getting customers whose homes could not safely accept electric service after Sandy back in service through working with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, county OEMs and local officials.

During Sandy, senior executives conducted daily conference calls with government officials to provide updates to address their concerns and those of their constituents, Jones said. Company personnel also staffed the state and local emergency management agencies and emergency operations centers to ensure a quick response and to handle any issues as quickly as possible.

On areas of improvement, Jones said the company communicates with state regulators, local officials, key stakeholders and county OEMs to address any issues and incorporate new ideas to help improve reliability and communication with customers during a weather event.

Kirkpatrick noted that the industry learned there are many impediments to effective restoration of electric service following a Sandy type of event. Moving massive numbers of resources from long distances provided unique challenges, he said, adding that speed of response was slowed by truck weigh stations and toll booths along the route. Also, border crossings to move resources to and from Canada slowed restoration resources.

Among other things, he noted that the industry is working cooperatively with key government agencies to improve some of those bottlenecks.

“Ensuring that consistent information is communicated among neighboring utilities, regional transmission organizations, local, state and government agencies, and the public at large was a critical lesson learned during the Sandy restoration effort as well,” Bradish said. “Going forward, it will also be important to continue developing technologies that can help improve situational awareness and enhance the storm damage assessment process.”

Morano said JCP&L met with customers, regulators and elected officials – including with representatives from all of the New Jersey municipalities served by JCP&L – after Sandy and implemented a number of enhancements. Among other things, the company has adopted the FEMA incident command system, has named a manager of emergency preparedness to work with local offices of emergency management and has updated its critical service facilities list for each of the communities it serves.

Jipping praised the work by EEI in terms of coordinating the mutual assistance activities, saying, “There’s a new, national response framework where a larger entity will allocate those resources when you’ve got damage across multiple utilities.”

From ITC’s perspective, he said, the company is looking for the next storm to have less damage if the system is taken care of better.

“We’re really thoughtful about where we spend money so that we can get that kind of improvement that’s going to be long-lasting,” he said.

Getting utilities to invest more

Kuebler said policy makers should create regulatory incentives that support the investments required to make smart grid technology ubiquitous, so utilities and customers are supplied with real-time information about the status of service and equipment on both sides of the meter.

“[W]e would support policy that requires the creation of detailed contingency plans for the customer’s side of the meter,” he said. “In other words, true comprehensive emergency planning must imagine dire post-storm scenarios for customers, so that all players – local utilities, emergency planners at the federal, state and community level, [representatives] for insurers, the trades and equipment suppliers – are ready to help make whole a customer’s damaged energy infrastructure immediately after an extreme weather event.

On encouraging investment in grid reliability, he noted that policy makers can help by considering incentive regulation that encourages utilities to move beyond complying with minimum reliability requirements and make needed investments.

On what is needed to encourage utilities to invest more in grid reliability, Jones noted that utilities must always be cognizant of balancing the cost of investments with cost recovery, namely, rate increases.

Kirkpatrick said that utilities need to assess which strategies for improving grid reliability during major events will provide the greatest benefit.

“Investment recovery plans are essential to provide a pathway for accelerated utility investment,” he said, adding that effective restoration strategies, efficient use of resources and focused communication with stakeholders will help to minimize impact to the economy and customers.

Morano said utilities need to be able to have a rapid cost recovery for investments.

Jipping noted that ITC is pretty unique in that it is well-poised to make investments, adding that since all it does is transmission, ITC has no competition for capital in the company with other business units like other utilities may have.

RTO cooperation

Flanagan said that before Sandy hit, the NYISO coordinated storm preparation plans with the New York Transmission Owners (NYTOs), NPCC and the generation companies.

All previously scheduled outages to perform maintenance work on New York transmission facilities and generators were postponed to ensure those facilities were available over the next several days. The NYTOs reported significant numbers of additional field operation crews scheduled and available to respond to the expected storm disruptions, he added.

Jones said PJM Interconnection factors interregional planning into its analyses, adding that through FERC Order 1000, stakeholders have been involved in discussions to review existing interregional planning protocols and make improvements where applicable.

Kuebler noted that RTOs work together beyond the individual utilities to provide regional coordination that can help ensure greater grid stability.

ISO New England (ISO-NE), in its Oct. 31, 2012 ISO Newswire, noted that most of the outages were in low-lying and coastal areas of New England, including the Connecticut shoreline, parts of Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts.

In the week before the storm’s landfall, ISO-NE began communicating about the potential impacts of the hurricane with regional transmission owners, generator owners and local control centers to coordinate plans for operating the New England power grid through the severe weather.

The ISO also said it worked closely with the operators of neighboring control areas in New York and in Quebec and New Brunswick, Canada, as well as with the NPCC and the natural gas system operators providing pipeline and liquefied natural gas service to New England.

ISO-NE said it increased staffing at its backup control center before the storm and brought in additional control room operators and engineering, market operations, facilities and information technology personnel to its main control center.

Among other things, ISO-NE said its control room operators and the local control centers worked to maintain reliable operations on the region’s high-voltage power system during and after the hurricane, despite the fact that more than 50 high-voltage transmission lines were affected and significant damage was caused to distribution system infrastructure.

Bradish noted that the stability of the regional – that is, extra-high voltage – grid tends to be maintained during most extreme weather events. The local, lower-voltage transmission facilities tend to be more vulnerable.

“RTOs can best aid grid stability by proactively planning for potential reliability threats and enhancing communication between RTOs and utility operators during major storms,” particularly for interregional facilities, he said.

Effect of FERC Order 1000

Bradish noted that FERC Order 1000 will not specifically address reliability during extreme weather, adding that there will be a benefit in that the order will ensure that regional and interregional planning efforts take place and that the regional grid will remain reliable under various future scenarios.

“To the extent that FERC Order 1000 encourages transmission expansion through competitive processes and regional planning, the reliability of the grid will be enhanced,” he said.

Jones said, “Although we cannot state that all power outages will be avoided with implementation of FERC Order 1000, some of the requirements which came out of the order, many of which PJM was already implementing, will provide for coordinated transmission planning processes, which indirectly can lead to a more reliable and efficient transmission system.”

Kuebler noted that the order is focused on the transmission planning process, a key element of which is planning for the reliability of the grid. While the order changes how aspects of the planning process will work, it retains the focus on planning for grid reliability. He also noted that the order is focused on seeking the more efficient and cost-effective solutions to address those requirements and it seeks to improve coordination between neighboring transmission planning regions to address issues that may span more than one region.

Flanagan said the order primarily deals with transmission planning on a regional and interregional basis and does not require changing the existing mandatory reliability standards put forth by NERC and approved by FERC.

“To the extent that governmental or regulatory agencies establish a public policy requirement requiring more transmission to address extreme weather conditions such as Hurricane Sandy, Order 1000 contains a mechanism by which transmission providers, which include ISOs and RTOs, can pursue development of such facilities,” he said.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 2850 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 14 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.