PECO has reported that 44 percent of power outages that affected its customers this year occurred mainly during July and August, about double the monthly average. In fact, more than two-thirds of the area’s power outages during the summer season occurred on rainy or stormy days.
The Philadelphia Region received plenty of rain during the past couple of months, too. According to the National Weather Service, the area recorded 10 days with more than a half-inch of rain and an exceptionally high 15.7 inches of rain between July 1 and Sept. 15.
Storms not only cause more electric interruptions for the area. Due to their typical timing and the amount of damage they cause, storm-related outages tend to last longer. PECO said the average duration for outages during the summer was 23 minutes longer and storm outages were almost 50 percent longer than the average duration for the year.
There is a positive outlook on the recent storms. PECO has invested in distribution automation over the past several years that improved reliability by about 30 percent during the very wet month of August alone.
In recent years, PECO has deployed nearly 1,300 automated, mostly installed atop utility poles, along many of its distribution circuits. These electronic switches, known as reclosers or sectionalizers, activate automatically when a tree falls, lightning strikes or any “fault” occurs. As a result, customers experience only a blink of the lights or no interruption at all. PECO said its distribution automation averted 114,000 customers from experiencing an interruption in August. PECO plans to install about 80 more of these smart switches this year with more circuits identified each year for these reliability upgrades.
Another way the company tries to limit the impact of storms on its customers is trimming trees growing under or near aerial power lines. PECO will spend $25 million this year for tree maintenance along its transmission and distribution lines across the Greater Philadelphia region. With trees as the leading cause of power outages, tree clearance around aerial power lines is vital for maintaining strong electric service reliability. The program involves annual patrols of the system and trimming or clearing on a cyclical basis. Common problems include trees growing into aerial lines, fallen tree limbs, and uprooted trees.