One physical threat to the electricity infrastructure is severe weather. When weather causes power outages, there are financial costs, as well as political and social risks, especially when the disruption is prolonged. We cannot completely prevent power outages, but we can take storm hardening measures to reduce the damage from a major event, improve recovery time when a disruption occurs, reduce the number of outages and lower the costs to customers.
One of the greatest physical threats to the electricity infrastructure is severe weather.
Based on recommendations from our Distribution Storm Hardening Strategy Team, we have implemented new design criteria to strengthen, or harden, the distribution system in 2014. We now design new and replacement poles to withstand wind speeds and ice accumulation above and beyond the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) requirement for our service territory. The ice build-up component has been increased to one inch of ice in the central and northern portions of AEP’s service territory from a quarter- to a half-inch, respectively. In the southern portion of our territory, where high winds are the primary driver of major storm damage, we have increased the system’s ability to withstand high winds from 60 mph to 90 mph. Along the Gulf coast, where hurricanes are a bigger issue, we continue to design facilities to withstand 150 mph winds. In 2014, approximately 105,000 poles were designed using the new storm hardening criteria across the AEP system.
These hardening measures are predicted to increase the strength of electric structures by at least 25 percent with nominal increase in cost. In addition, we developed an assessment tool to help us determine where to deploy capital funds to maximize the benefits of grid-hardening initiatives. Among the criteria we are using include the number of customers served; the type of customer (how many on a particular circuit are considered “critical” customers, such as hospitals and nursing homes, law enforcement agencies, and water or wastewater facilities); the age of the poles; and the average duration of outages. This allows us to put our resources to work where they deliver the most value for our customers.
Nationally, and within our service territories, hardening, reliability and grid modernization initiatives have garnered support from state utility commissions.
In October 2014, Indiana Michigan Power Company (I&M) filed a request with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) for a seven year infrastructure improvement program. The I&M Reliability Enhancement Program seeks to invest approximately $787 million in its Indiana infrastructure, starting in 2015. The program calls for replacing poles, wires and other infrastructure, that in many cases, are decades old, with modern, state-of-the art equipment. In addition to the overhead lines customers see every day, crews will also reinforce reliability in I&M’s underground metropolitan networks with updated wiring and configurations.
The IURC’s approval is still pending for the Transmission, Distribution and Storage System Improvement Charge (TDSIC) initiatives. If approved the TDSIC rider would be used to recover costs associated with certain electric infrastructure expansion projects, including those intended to improve safety or reliability; modernize the system; or improve an area’s economic development prospects. The TDSIC allows I&M to plan and finance significant infrastructure improvements over seven years and to lessen the impact on customers through smaller, annual rate increases for necessary infrastructure enhancements. In Ohio, the existing Distribution Investment Rider helps us fund distribution system improvements, including grid hardening.
AEP is among other utilities participating in the Electric Power Research Institute’s three-year Grid Resiliency Project. Started in 2013, the project will provide our industry with new tools and strategies to improve the distribution system’s ability to withstand severe weather events.
AEP is focusing on three areas to improve service restoration during large-scale power outages:
- Implementing the Incident Command System (ICS). Numerous utilities are moving to this nationally used crisis management tool as a standard for responding to small and large emergencies and incidents.
- Technology improvements. Introducing new tools and improving our systems to better manage our workload during major events and to provide more timely and accurate information to customers and other stakeholders.
- Process improvements. Working to standardize our assessment process and implement a number of restoration process enhancements that will improve how we manage our crews and other resources.