PPL Electric UtilitiesNormal0falsefalsefalseEN-USX-NONEX-NONE plans $664 million in capital improvements in 2012 to fund more than 100 local projects to build new substations, upgrade existing facilities, replace older transmission lines and poles, improve distribution circuits, and upgrade technology for improved operations. It's a nearly 50 percent jump in capital investments over last year as the utility expands efforts to strengthen reliability and address aging infrastructure.

PPL Electric Utilities has been steadily increasing its capital investments in recent years, from roughly $290 million in 2009 to $422 million in 2010 to $458 million last year. "We have a long-term comprehensive plan to invest more in our electric delivery system," said David DeCampli, president of PPL Electric Utilities. "We are making thoughtful and prudent decisions to renew, strengthen and modernize our system to enhance our operations and better serve our customers for years to come."

"This is much-needed work that will reinforce our regional power grid. These projects represent significantly greater investments in the critical infrastructure for Pennsylvania's economy and will provide hundreds of construction jobs," said DeCampli.

DeCampli said many of the projects were first identified and prioritized during a 2008-09 study of the utility's entire transmission and distribution network, covering more than 30 million pieces of equipment. The study evaluated all of the power lines, substations and other key components based on age, condition and performance, noting that an increasing share of equipment is nearing the end of its useful life.

The company will replace 1,000 transmission line poles, 81 substation circuit breakers, and substation transformers that are critical to system reliability. Additionally, the company intends to build new transmission lines and rebuild existing ones -- among them will be three of the company's oldest power lines.

Also noteworthy for grid reinforcement, modernization and system reliability are the completion of a new transmission substation in central Dauphin County and the expansion or upgrades to 13 other substation facilities.

The company said it also allocated $11 million to install 150 miles of fiber optic lines to connect 32 substations for dedicated communications capability and enhanced operations.

PPL Electric Utilities plans 54 projects on the local distribution systems to improve reliability in certain areas across its service area. Additionally, it has set aside $9 million for improvements on targeted distribution circuits to improve reliability performance. These improvements are primarily new facilities or upgraded equipment to address causes of outages and reduce the number of or the length of service interruptions for local customers.

The company also expects to complete the PPL Smart Grid pilot project that's been underway over the past two years in Dauphin and Cumberland counties around Harrisburg by early this summer. PPL Electric Utilities also will perform engineering design this year for the next phase of advanced technology deployment in the Poconos region for better service.

More than 63,000 customers in central Pennsylvania will benefit from the increased use of distribution automation and a dedicated communications system that allows sensors, relays, and electronic switches to monitor system conditions, talk to one another, and act automatically as needed to maintain service, avoiding outages that would have occurred in the past. Reliability improvement plans for the Poconos region will be announced later this year as designs are completed.

Seven new substations are planned to be placed into service this year to boost power supply and improve service in local areas, along with significant upgrades at five other local facilities. The system maintenance program includes proactive replacement of deteriorating aerial and underground lines, inspection and reinforcement of utility poles and city underground vaults, and helicopter surveys with infrared inspections of transmission facilities.

PPL Electric Utilities said $17 million in technology investments will upgrade its outage management and work force management systems, as well as expand use of advanced meters and mobile computers in the field and improved customer communications systems. The company also is building a new data and operations center in Upper Macungie, near Allentown.

Across its 29-county service area, PPL Electric Utilities operates and maintains an electric delivery system that consists of about 400 substations, 50,000 miles of aerial and underground power lines, and nearly 1 million poles. It delivered 37.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2011