New Jersey’s major utilities are in the midst of multi-billion-dollar projects to upgrade this original colony’s aging infrastructure, both to better keep the lights on, the boilers operating and the water running – and to help the state recover more quickly from major storms.
Electric, gas and water companies consistently perform maintenance work and plan system upgrades. Much of the current work is in response to October 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged most of the state, and two major storms in the summer of 2011, prompting the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to call on companies to make the utility infrastructure better withstand the effects of future tempests.
“With the lessons of past storms on our minds and hurricane season upon us, the Board appreciates the need to harden utility infrastructure to withstand threats that come with major storm events,” said BPU President Richard S. Mroz last May in commenting on the BPU’s approval of Atlantic City Electric’s PowerAhead infrastructure program.
The $79-million, five-year program is designed to address vulnerable areas of the electric system that have experienced extended outages during recent storms.
“Modernizing our energy infrastructure and upgrading our existing electrical systems is critical to providing quality service to our customers,” says Vince Maione, Atlantic City Electric region president. “PowerAhead will not only strengthen the electric grid and make it more resistant to severe storms, it will also help create jobs that will have a positive impact on our South Jersey economy.”
Part of the work will increase system automation for faster and safer restoration. It entails rebuilding about 15.5 miles of distribution feeders to improve resiliency by installing 71 reclosers, automation devices on feeder lines that isolate outages and enable faster restoration.
ACE also recently completed construction of a new $44-million substation to serve Woolwich Township and surrounding areas. The High Street Substation Project, which began last fall, was fully energized at the end of June. The new substation and associated transmission line improvements were needed to maintain reliability and meet the demand for electricity in Woolwich, Paulsboro, East Greenwich, Greenwich, South Harrison, Swedesboro and Pilesgrove.
Jersey Central Power & Light Co. expects to spend $359 million this year to strengthen its system with a goal of reducing power outages and enhancing reliability across its 13-county service area in North and Central Jersey, according to spokesman Ron Morano.
“Our customers have benefited from the continuous investments and enhancements made over the past decade to JCP&L’s transmission and distribution systems,” says Jim Fakult, president of JCP&L. “In addition to the improved service reliability, the infrastructure work is designed to accommodate future growth in New Jersey’s economy.”
In June, the company energized a new $124-million transmission line in Monmouth County, benefitting more than 180,000 customers in Colts Neck, Howell, Neptune, Tinton Falls and Wall. The Oceanview Reinforcement Project is a 16-mile, 230-kV line with steel pole construction to connect JCP&L substations in Howell and Neptune.
Energized in May was a new transmission line connecting substations in the Eatontown area, at a cost of $4.8 million.
In addition, the company is spending $11.6 million to install new high-speed communication equipment across JCP&L’s service area to enhance the remote operation of the electric system. It is upgrading more than 90 distribution circuits to improve service reliability at a cost of $4.7 million. It is also spending $5.4 million to upgrade transmission protective devices, circuit breakers and other equipment that automatically disconnect from the system when a problem is detected to reduce the length of an outage and the number of customers that are affected.
Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) is in the midst of two major initiatives designed to make its energy infrastructure, both electric and gas, more resilient. Called Energy Strong, the $1.2-billion effort is in its third year, having created an estimated 2,000 jobs in the process.
When complete, 430,000 of the utility’s 2 million customers who lost power in Hurricane Sandy due to flooding will not do so again.
In addition, more than 250 hospitals, police stations and other critical customers that lost power during Sandy will either not lose power or see their restoration times greatly reduced with the utility’s installation of automated devices that allow equipment on poles to be controlled remotely, with 11 more remaining to be upgraded. Since Sandy, PSE&G has invested $85 million in technology to minimize outages for critical customers.
PSE&G is also investing in its natural gas infrastructure. The company has installed 240 miles of new, plastic gas mains in flood-prone areas. Some 90,000 customers served by those pipes are no longer at risk of losing service from floodwaters seeping into previously leak-prone mains. And it has raised and hardened eight gas meters and regulating stations, so when severe weather strikes, Newark Airport and other critical gas customers will not lose service.
“The work we have completed so far has put a significant portion of New Jersey’s electric and gas networks out of reach of floodwaters – and, as a result, protects hundreds of thousands of customers from the impacts of another destructive storm,” says John Latka, PSE&G senior vice president of electric and gas operations.
In addition to hardening its system against storms, PSE&G is accelerating the replacement of cast iron and unprotected steel gas infrastructure under a three-year, $905-million program.
Approved in November 2015, the program is replacing 510 miles of old gas mains across the company’s service territory in 11 counties, concentrating on urban areas established in the early 1900s, where much of the cast iron and unprotected steel gas pipes are located. PSE&G has almost 4,000 miles of cast iron pipes, and another 1,000 miles of unprotected steel – the largest inventory of any utility in the US – in part because it has been serving customers for 114 years.
This program has created some 500 jobs, and most of the plastic pipes are manufactured in New Jersey.
PSE&G is not the only utility replacing old cast iron and bare steel pipes.
South Jersey Gas (SJG) is doing so through its Accelerated Infrastructure Replacement Program. From 2012 to 2016, the $141.2-million program created 141 jobs per year. The BPU last fall approved a five-year continuation of the program, and work has been continuing. The company plans to invest as much as $303 million over five years to continue replacing the aging mains with more durable plastic pipe. SJG expects to replace all remaining bare steel and cast iron mains in its system by 2021. Since first getting approval for the program in 2009, the company has replaced more than 600 miles of steel and cast iron.
“Investing in improvements to our infrastructure allows us to continually deliver a safe and dependable supply of natural gas vital to heating customers’ homes and operating their businesses. These investments ensure we can meet customer needs while supporting southern New Jersey’s growing population and economy,” says Dave Robbins, president of SJG.
New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) has a similar program called Safety Acceleration and Facility Enhancement (SAFE). The utility replaced 276 miles, or roughly half, of the cast iron and unprotected steel mains in its system over the first four years of the program, and made NJNG the first utility in the state to remove all cast iron from its system, according to spokesman Michael Kinney. Last fall, the BPU approved the second phase of the program, which will eliminate the rest of the old mains over the next five years. The first phase cost $130 million, and the second is estimated at $157 million.
“Ensuring the safety of our customers and the reliability of our system is the most important thing we do,” says Laurence M. Downes, chairman and CEO of NJNG. “In addition to strengthening our system, our SAFE investments can help New Jersey’s economy continue to grow.”
SAFE also is having a significant impact on New Jersey’s economy, creating an estimated 1,325 direct and indirect jobs as well as $100 million in gross state product.
Elizabethtown Gas has invested $390 million in infrastructure replacement, storm mitigation and system reliability programs, and replaced more than 200 miles of aging pipeline infrastructure since 2010, according to spokesman Duane Bourne.
The utility plans to continue investing in its system over the next decade to better serve its 286,000 customers in seven north and central Jersey counties – Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Sussex, Union and Warren. Elizabethtown plans to remove 500 miles of vintage cast iron, ductile iron and bare steel by 2027 as well as replace 240 regulator stations associated with Elizabethtown low-pressure distribution system. Excess flow valves, which restrict the flow of natural gas if a customer’s service line is damaged or broken, will be installed on all new service lines. Interior natural gas meters also will be relocated to the exterior of homes and businesses to allow for improved access for safety inspections and more convenience for customers.
Other utilities are in the midst of additional gas projects as well. SJG’s $104-million Storm Hardening and Reliability Program is replacing low-pressure mains along the barrier islands in defense of significant weather events. The primary focus is to upgrade lower operating pressure distribution systems, which are more susceptible to water intrusion during significant storms with flooding conditions. Since 2014, this program has created 138 jobs annually.
And the company is looking forward to building a new 22-mile pipeline to meet the energy demands of 142,000 customers in Cape May and Atlantic counties. Last February, the New Jersey Pinelands Commission approved the long-planned and controversial Cape Atlantic Reliability Project, a pipeline from Millville under the Pinelands to supply gas to the BL England electrical generation plant in Upper Township. According to SJG, the pipeline should significantly reduce air emissions, as the facility will use cleaner natural gas to generate electricity, and increase reliability by providing a second transmission line.
A NJNG program called New Jersey Reinvestment in System Enhancements (NJ RISE) will invest $102.5 million in six capital projects designed to enhance the resiliency of the company’s natural gas systems and help mitigate the impact of major weather events.
The first of the six projects, the installation of 1.5 miles of distribution main in Sea Bright as a secondary feed, was completed in April. The others, which are in process, include moving a regulator station off the barrier islands and installing a new high-pressure feed to Mantoloking, installing a secondary feed from Toms River to the South Seaside Peninsula and installing 6 miles of distribution main as a secondary feed to Long Beach Island. All the upgrades will help minimize the number and duration of outages, and improve NJNG’s ability to respond to any control service disruptions.
NJNG is also working toward getting local approvals for the Southern Reliability Link (SRL), a 30-mile intrastate transmission pipeline. The $180-million project would significantly enhance the resiliency of NJNG’s distribution system and support safe, reliable service to more than one million people in the region. Now, 85 percent of NJNG’s natural gas supply comes from a single interstate feed at the northern end of its system. The SRL would provide a feed from a second, separate interstate provider at the southern end of the system. The project, which would run through the Pine Barrens, has received state approval from the BPU and other state agencies.
Not to be outdone, the state’s water utilities are also doing infrastructure work.
Middlesex Water Company has embarked on a $160-million campaign to enhance safety, reliability and resiliency throughout its system. The campaign, Water For Tomorrow, involves numerous projects to upgrade and replace infrastructure and enhance the integrity of the system assets to better serve water users. Expected to be completed by the end of next year, the project includes the construction of a 42-inch, 4.6-mile water transmission pipeline to provide critical resiliency and redundancy capability to the system, additional elevated storage tanks to supplement and ensure water supply during emergencies and peak usage periods, and upgrades and improvements to water interconnections with neighboring utilities for resiliency and emergency response. Middlesex Water serves 61,000 homes and businesses in Carteret, Edison, Metuchen, South Amboy, South Plainfield and Woodbridge.
“The projects encompassed in the Water For Tomorrow campaign are all based on rigorous asset management evaluations,” says Dennis W. Doll, Middlesex Water’s chairman, president and CEO.
Meanwhile, New Jersey American Water broke ground this past April on a $65-million, long-term flood protection project at its Raritan-Millstone Water Treatment Plant in Bridgewater. The initiative will help ensure protection from the increased risk of flooding during extreme weather events, and maintain a sustainable water supply for more than 1 million people in Central New Jersey.
New Jersey American Water is the largest investor-owned water utility in the state, providing water and/or wastewater services to approximately 2.7 million people.
This year, the state is spending about $539 million from the Environmental Infrastructure Trust (EIT) to provide loans to wastewater treatment plants and drinking water systems. About 40 percent of the money is going to facilities making upgrades and repairs in the wake of Sandy. About $30 million is also dedicated to replacing lead service lines to protect the drinking water supply. The EIT has been a consistent source of money for clean water projects, having funded more than 1,200 projects costing some $6.7 billion over the last three decades.
There is another reason for – and benefit from – these improvements: The billions of dollars that utilities are spending on construction work is also helping pump up the state’s economy, put thousands to work and make New Jersey even more attractive to businesses.
“We are getting a whole lot of work out of the utility industry,” says Greg Lalevee, chairman of the Engineers Labor Employer Cooperative and business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, noting union members are working on electrical substations, natural gas mains and gas transmission pipelines.
“There has to be redundancy, resiliency” in the system, not only to support current residents, but also to attract additional growth, Lavalee says. “We are not going to lure businesses to New Jersey if we do not have the infrastructure to meet their needs.”