With the impending Memorial Day holiday kicking off the unofficial summer season, PECO Energy is busy getting its electric distribution system better prepared to meet peak demand on the warmest days.

Summertime is the season in which energy used for air conditioners, refrigerators and other cooling appliances on warm days push demand for power to the highest levels for the year. Last summer was one of the region's warmest on record with 16 of the top 20 highest days ever for electric demand. The peak day occurred August 4 last year with power demand from PECO customers reaching 8,164 megawatts, an all-time high.

Denis O'Brien, PECO president, said the company hopes to repeat last year's excellent reliability performance that came despite the extreme warm weather. "We realize our customers count on us to deliver power when they need it most in the summertime. Our springtime projects and maintenance activities will ensure that we keep the lights on as expected and can respond quickly when problems occur," he said.

This year, PECO is nearing completion of 10 major capital improvement projects, as well as dozens of additional preventive maintenance, system reinforcement, and capacity expansion activities across the region. PECO's multi-million dollar investment in its electric delivery infrastructure will ensure the company can maintain its strong service reliability for customers during the days with the greatest demand for electricity.

Specifically, increasing demand in certain communities resulting from local residential and commercial growth has prompted PECO to invest $37 million in new facilities to carry greater electrical capacity. Most of the work involves equipment upgrades or expansion of electric substations in Warrington, Buckingham, and several lower Bucks towns; in Plymouth and West Point, Montgomery County; in Newtown Square, Delaware County, and Eagle (Uwchlan Township) in Chester County.

Strategic preventive maintenance and close system monitoring are also important to enhanced electric service reliability for customers. PECO employees and contractors will complete patrols by mid-June, some using infrared cameras, along more than 13,000 miles of aerial electric circuits and inspection and maintenance work on hundreds of underground manholes and associated switchgear and other equipment.

The company also expects to complete installation of nearly $7 million in reclosers, sectionalizers and similar advanced electronic circuit switches across the region as part of a 5-year commitment to new technology, which can better pinpoint problems affecting customer service and remotely restore outages without immediate dispatch of field personnel. The company's deployment of lightning arrestors and animal guards on overhead equipment keeps increasing as a means of preventing possible outages caused by adverse weather and squirrels.

While much of this work is taking place in the suburban areas, PECO has concentrated significant attention on improved performance of its underground network in center city Philadelphia as well, particularly along Delaware Avenue/Columbus Blvd., Old City, Rittenhouse Square, and Fitler Square.

In addition, PECO's engineering staff performs analysis of service reliability statistics for each of the 2,200 circuits across the system on an ongoing basis. When electric load increases or interruptions occur in certain areas, corrective plans are implemented to ensure performance improvement. Furthermore, PECO keeps additional transformers, cables, poles and other equipment on hand in the summer as a contingency.

Tree trimming and other vegetation clearance work along aerial power lines is an essential aspect of PECO's reliability-oriented preventive maintenance, too. The following communities will benefit from Asplundh Tree Expert Co. maintenance: Buckingham, Solebury, Wrightstown, and Bensalem areas of Bucks County; Lower Moreland, Upper Merion, West Norriton and Norristown in Montgomery County; the Somerton section of northeast Philadelphia; and around the Exton, Malvern, and Newlinville areas of Chester County.