A more resilient electric grid

We’re approaching the one-year mark since Superstorm Sandy.

For PPL Electric Utilities, it was the worst storm in our history and certainly tough on the more than 500,000 of our customers who lost power.

Sandy’s destructive force caused lengthy power outages and widespread property damage, and disrupted many lives.

We provide an essential service and we take seriously our responsibility to keep the lights on and prepare well for storms. Over the past year, we’ve been committed to improving our infrastructure, emergency preparedness and how we communicate with you about storms.

We learn from every storm.

Following storms in 2011, which included Hurricane Irene and an unusual Halloween snowstorm, we significantly improved our customer service and customer communications capabilities. Irene and Sandy both generated more than a million customer contacts in less than a week. We upgraded our technology, enhanced our website and increased our public outreach. With such a large-scale recovery, we also needed to better manage the flow of work to more efficiently assess the massive damage and repair electric service. Those lessons helped us tremendously.

Large storms involve a great amount of coordination and collaboration with local, state and federal government officials. Those relationships must be established long before emergencies occur. Since Sandy, we’ve built unprecedented collaborations with our state regulators, neighboring utilities, county and state emergency management agencies and the state Department of Transportation.

Getting stronger, smarter. Fortunately, before Irene or Sandy, we identified the need to invest more in our delivery network and developed ambitious plans to upgrade our facilities. With a $3.8 billion commitment over five years, we’re executing our plan. As a result, over time, our system will be stronger, more reliable and storm-resilient.

We can’t totally “storm-proof” our system, although our engineers are designing sturdier facilities based on new construction standards – bigger, taller poles; thicker conductors; and more sensors, relays and automation.

Since Sandy, we’ve dedicated more funds for vegetation management and cleared trees along more than 6,000 miles of power lines.

We appreciate the public support for this work, which will be ongoing to better protect our more than 32,000 miles of aerial lines.

Sandy remains fresh in our minds. We learned a great deal from the experience. It’s our responsibility to improve, and we’re committed to doing so.

Late October hasn’t been kind to eastern and central Pennsylvania in recent years. In 2011, the unusual early snowstorm caused more than 388,000 outages. And last year, Sandy hit.

We don’t want a trifecta, but the next time a major storm strikes, we expect it will have much less impact on all of us.

Teri MacBride is regional affairs director for PPL Utilities.