Potomic Edison Invests in Prototype 'Reclosers' at Turkey Neck

Last Updated on Jul 27, 2017 at 10:54am | Technology

Article courtesy of NCWV Media - The Republican.  Business Eduitor: John Dahlia. Photo Credit to John Dahlia.
 
 
Even though the severe weather event that hit Kitzmiller on Saturday did not cause any power outages, utility companies, like First Energy Corp.’s Potomac Edison are using a high-tech solution to reduce the frequency and duration of outages in Maryland’s westernmost county.
 
“Earlier in the year, we finished installing seven smart reclosers or electronic circuit breakers — at strategic intervals along the two lines, which are interconnected,” Potomac Edison spokesperson Todd Meyers told The Republican News.
 
Reclosers are protective devices that can literally sense a problem or fault on the line, such as a squirrel, tree branch, failed equipment, etc. Meyers said these high-tech devices are designed to open and interrupt the power if the problem persists for more than a few seconds, which causes an outage, but ultimately saves major damage to equipment that could lead to costly and lengthy repairs and longer outages.
 
“Once the typical recloser is open, a lineman needs to drive out, investigate the problem, and reset the equipment,” Meyers said. “That takes time, and customers are without power until the process is complete.”
 
But as Meyers put it, the new reclosers being used in Garrett County today, are a prototype technology not used at any other Potomac Edison service area.
 
“They are programmable, which means that without any human intervention, they can sense the problem and work in concert with the other programmable reclosers along the line to operate automatically to reconfigure the system in a matter of seconds, isolating the problem and greatly limiting the number of customers affected by the outage,” he explained.
 
The area Potomac Edison engineers chose is what Meyers calls a problematic set of two lines, or circuits, called the Turkey Neck Circuit, which serves about 2,160 customers along its 105-mile length here. He said those particular lines are long, and experience more outages than most.
“They are traversing through rugged mountainous areas in Garrett County that are impacted by more severe weather,” he said.
 
The new reclosers divide long sections of line into smaller intervals that serve distinct blocks of customers, Meyers said.
 
“If a tree falls onto the line causing damage and interrupting power, the reclosers operate automatically, temporarily reconfiguring the system so most customers can be fed with electricity even while repairs are being made,” he said. “All this happens within 60 seconds of the initial problem being detected.”
 
In simple terms, one of the lines does double duty, handling customers for both circuits temporarily while repairs are made to the damaged section of wire on the other circuit.
 
“To allow for this to occur, we also had to install new, larger conductor wire capable of carrying more electricity on the sections of the main 21-mile line connecting our electric substations at Oak Park near Oakland and Thayerville,” he explained. “That main line is interconnected to the Turkey Neck and Pysell Crosscut circuits.”
 
Potomac engineers began working on the project in late 2016 at a cost of $300,000. Since going online in January, Meyers said the system has already prevented at least one major outage.
 
“The new system recently worked as intended after an outage on the Pysell Crosscut Circuit, and nearly 1,000 customers who would have otherwise experienced a lengthy outage while repairs were being made kept their power,” he said.
 
The next step is for Potomac engineers to evaluate the results of the new technology, but as Meyers put it, the preliminary results are promising.
“We are in the process of identifying some solid candidates to expand the new equipment into West Virginia, particularly in Potomac Edison’s Eastern Panhandle, where we serve nearly 140,000 customers,” he said.
 
NCWV Media Business Editor John Dahlia can be reached at (304) 276-1801 or by email at jdahlia@ncwvmedia.com.