By Betty Lin-Fisher
Beacon Journal business writer
FirstEnergy Corp. said on Wednesday it plans to spend more than $475 million this year on infrastructure upgrades in its Ohio Edison service territory that includes Akron.
The company said the dollar amount is a $233 million increase from 2013.
Major projects include building new substations, starting construction on a new 100-mile transmission line, inspecting and replacing utility poles, and continuing tree trimming work.
The improvements are the largest in the Akron-based company’s territories and part of a $1.8 billion transmission project upgrade that is already underway, said Randy Frame, Ohio Edison regional president, in a telephone interview.
The electric utility last fall announced a separate $2.8 billion project in the next four years at Ohio Edison and three other of its operating companies to upgrade its transmission power lines and substations.
The upgrades are “focused on benefiting the customers and continuing the efforts we’ve always had to ensure our reliability is the best it can be. We’ll continue to upgrade our transmission systems that will help not only load flows, but improve older transmission systems,” said Frame.
The capital improvements are recoverable for the utility from ratepayers in future rate cases submitted to regulators.
Among the projects in the plan are a new $1.2 million modular substation being built in Bath Township on Shade Road just west of the Interstate 77 overpass, which will serve additional load growth and reduce load off a substation that will eventually be retired off Akron-Peninsula and Ira roads. That substation is close to an area that can flood, said Frame.
Frame said growth on Akron’s west side has added more demand on electricity. Work should begin on the new substation at the end of March with most of it complete by the end of the year, said company spokesman Mark Durbin.
The company will also be spending $18.6 million as part of Ohio Edison’s ongoing tree-trimming program to maintain proper clearances to help reduce tree-related outages. Some of the scheduled communities include Akron, Alliance, Aurora, Barberton, Massillon, Medina, Ravenna and Twinsburg. Overall, more than 5,000 miles of Ohio Edison distribution lines will be trimmed in 2013.
FirstEnergy will also spend $800,000 to continue its proactive removal of trees affected by the emerald ash borer, particularly those that could fall on Ohio Edison lines.
Other projects include:
• Beginning construction on a new, 100-mile 345-kilovolt (kV) transmission line from FirstEnergy’s Bruce Mansfield Power Plant along the Ohio River to the Cleveland area to enhance system reliability. It is anticipated that approximately $128 million will be invested in this multiyear project in 2014.
• Starting construction on a new $52 million transmission substation in the Massillon area.
• Expanding the electric system to serve customers in the eastern Ohio shale gas region, including a new $4.8 million transmission line segment near Boardman to serve Pennant Midstream facilities.
• Installing remote-control equipment and breaker upgrades at substations in Portage, Mahoning and Trumbull counties at a cost of more than $1.6 million.
• Replacing wire and adding capacity to major circuits in Columbiana, Stark and Trumbull counties at a cost of $3 million.
• Investing more than $6.8 million inspecting and replacing distribution poles in the Ohio Edison service area. This inspection process is conducted on a 10-year cycle. More than 59,000 utility poles will be inspected in 2014, with about 2,000 expected to be replaced.
Ohio Edison serves more than 1 million customers across 36 Ohio counties.