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Published: Friday, 3/22/2013

Edison to spend $11M on upgrades

About half will go to tree-trimming efforts, Toledo utility says

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Frame Frame
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Most people may not notice, but Toledo Edison is spending about $11 million this year to make sure that, well ... most people won’t notice the company.

The money is being directed at four major projects that not only will upgrade the utility’s electrical system — something it does annually — but also add to its reliability so that the preventable outages never take place, and those that cannot be prevented are as short as possible.

“The funds are spent over the course of the year, but a number of things are already in progress,” said Randy Frame, regional president of Toledo Edison, which is a subsidiary of Akron-based First-Energy Corp.

Toledo Edison will spend about $2 million to inspect and replace distribution and subtransmission utility poles in Clyde, Perrysburg, Wauseon, and areas south of Pioneer. It will spend an extra $3.5 million on two projects — upgrading its power-distribution circuits in Defiance, Genoa, Perrysburg, Rossford, Sylvania, and Wauseon, and upgrading equipment in the downtown Toledo underground electrical network.

The subsidiary, which provides electricity to nearly 310,000 customers in eight counties in northwest Ohio, will spend $5.5 million — the biggest chunk of the $11 million — on tree trimming and vegetation-management efforts in Defiance, Maumee, Perrysburg, Rossford, Sylvania, and Toledo. Private contractors employed by the utility have begun working to keep power lines free of vegetation and removing trees to prevent power distribution sites from possible damage during storms.

Mr. Frame said the budget for annual-system maintenance varies — Toledo Edison spent $20 million last year on upgrades and tree-trimming — depending on need, but that vegetation management is always one of the biggest expenditures of the subsidiary and FirstEnergy.

“We are constantly spending so that we don’t have trees falling into the line. Even if a tree just bumps a line it causes a momentary interruption,” Mr. Frame said.

The 2003 blackout that affected much of the Northeast and Midwest originated in FirstEnergy territory and was partly caused, according to an investigating task force, by a combination of a tree brushing against overloaded power transmission lines and a software bug that prevented control room operators from correctly diagnosing the problem.

Mr. Frame said that since then the utility has been extremely vigilant about foliage, with the parent firm patrolling high-voltage transmission lines, and subsidiaries like Toledo Edison tasked with clearing local vegetation.

“There has been a very big emphasis on that for a number of years to make sure we do clear the lines. We pursue that to the fullest extent that our easement wording allows us to,” he said. “If it says we have a right to clear up to 100 feet, we clear to 100 feet.”

FirstEnergy also enlists the aid of a helicopter with an attached aerial saw to clear remote areas. 

Toledo Edison can and has used the saw in its tree-trimming efforts, Mr. Frame said.

“We have metrics and we keep track of every power outage we have and what caused it. The one we keep looking at with a close eye is tree-related outages,” he said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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