“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
Iconic singer Joni Mitchell didn’t have electricity in mind when she penned those words in her 1970s hit song “Big Yellow Taxi.” But she could have. Like the air we breathe and the water we drink, electricity is one of life’s essentials that we often take for granted in this country – until it’s gone.
Fortunately, that doesn’t happen very often and even when it does, the interruption doesn’t last long. In fact, the average electric customer in the United States loses power for about 1 hour and 45 minutes in a year.
For PSE&G customers the average was substantially lower – less than 33 minutes – in 2015. That’s the average for all customers on the system; many customers did not experience any outages in 2015. And when the power does go out – usually when a storm brings down tree limbs and power lines – PSE&G customers on average are restored within 56 minutes, our best response rate in 25 years.
Of course, these utility measures of electric system reliability don’t mean much if you’re the one experiencing a power outage – no matter how brief. As someone who has spent the past 34 years working to make sure the lights stay on, I understand the important role electricity plays in virtually everything we do. Our customers expect it to be there when they flip a light switch, turn on the mega TV and charge their numerous personal devices.
We continually invest in our electric system by replacing equipment, installing new technology to improve performance, and trimming trees, to name a few. But even as our reliability stats continue to improve, customers have increasing expectations of what reliability means to them. Not only are customers less tolerant of power outages during normal conditions, they also expect the lights to stay on during severe weather.
Recent destructive storms like Sandy and Irene flooded electrical substations, uprooted trees and brought down wires resulting in widespread outages. And while the majority of PSE&G customers were restored within a few days, these storms made it clear that we need to do more to protect our infrastructure and keep the power on even during the most punishing weather.
Sandy and Irene brought new meaning to what it means to be reliable. Our electric and gas systems now must be resilient to the kind of destructive weather we can expect in the future. We’re hard at work making sure that they are.
Through PSE&G’s five-year “Energy Strong” program, we are raising electrical substation equipment above new FEMA flood levels to keep water out and the power on during the next flood or tidal surge. We’re upgrading lines and equipment that serve critical customers like hospitals, water treatment plants and other essential providers of health and safety services. We’re installing more redundant circuits so that if a portion of a line gets damaged, we can serve customers via another electrical pathway. In our gas system, we’ve replaced more than 230 miles of low-pressure gas mains with more durable plastic pipes that will keep the gas flowing even if streets are under water.
These resiliency upgrades are making a reliable system even stronger. And we will need to do more infrastructure upgrades if we are to meet the reliability expectations of our customers now and in the years to come.
I’m okay if our customers take electricity for granted. It means we are doing our jobs.
John Latka, Senior Vice President Electric & Gas Operations – PSE&G