Following Irene blackouts, Pa. power companies focus on improvements

    Some extended power outages in Pennsylvania during Hurricane Irene might have been avoided with greater investments.

    At the height of Hurricane Irene, more than 700,000 residents were without power throughout eastern Pennsylvania, and more than a million lost power at some point due to the storm.

    Electric companies met in Harrisburg this week with the Public Utility Commission to discuss how they can improve.

    About 6 percent of the 1.3 million customers who lost power at some point because of the storm didn’t get it back for three or more days, according to the PUC.

    Representing PECO, Mike Innocenzo said wind damage to trees caused many of the repeat outages.

    “As you got to those last couple days of the storm, the tree limb that was hanging that may not have taken out the customers on Monday let loose on Wednesday and we had a couple of those, that was something we dealt with during the week,” he said.

    Investing in more advanced power infrastructure could help, said Carl Segneri with PPL.

    “I can’t think of a lot of things I can do for that hunting cabin that’s five miles at the end of the line. But some of the other customers that have the repeated outages, maybe at the end of the circuit, I’m a big believer in expanding the use of the distribution automation,” he said.

    Segneri said distribution automation would help power companies know immediately where there’s been an outage.

    He said new state regulations could make paying for those improvements less risky for power companies that aren’t always able to raise their rates after revamping their infrastructure.

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