Four years ago this past weekend, Superstorm Sandy barreled into New Jersey, taking an enormous toll on families, homes and businesses. The most devastating impacts of Hurricane Sandy were, as we all saw on television, down the Shore: the surreal pictures of homes under water or tilted off their foundations, the roller coaster in the surf.
Sandy’s reach was enormous and historic, and her impacts were felt inland, too, away from the boardwalks, beaches and Shore communities. Wind and storm damage made their way to cities and communities, damaging lives and livelihoods as well as critical electric and gas infrastructure.
There’s no question that Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up call for New Jersey. Sandy’s winds and storm surge cut power to 2 million PSE&G customers – some for more than a week.
In Sandy’s aftermath, PSE&G – with the support of the state Board of Public Utilities – embarked on Energy Strong, a $1.2 billion program that will make our electric and gas systems more resilient against the next Sandy or Matthew. Across the U.S., investor-owned utilities like PSE&G have spent more than $40 billion a year to fortify their grids from 2012 to 2015, according to the Edison Electric Institute. This year, utilities will spend nearly $53 billion on infrastructure upgrades.
Through our Energy Strong program, we have hardened our network against the next storm in several ways:
- When Energy Strong’s work is complete, 460,000 of our 2 million customers who lost power in Hurricane Sandy won’t lose power due to flooding – and all 2.2 million of our electric customers will experience faster restoration times;
- For natural gas customers, we installed 240 miles of new, plastic gas mains in flood-prone areas. Approximately 90,000 customers served by those pipes are no longer at risk of losing gas service from floodwaters seeping into previously leak-prone mains;
- To date, 123 hospitals and other critical customers that lost power during Sandy would either not lose power or would see their restoration times greatly reduced. By the time Energy Strong is complete, that number will rise to 262 critical customers.
Since Sandy, PSE&G has invested $74 million on technology to minimize outages for critical customers such as hospitals and police stations. So when Somerset Medical Center experienced a weather-related outage last year, PSE&G was able to restore power to the hospital remotely in just 10 minutes – one-fifth of the time it would have taken without the upgrade. Also benefiting from this work: 400,000 customers who live and work nearby.
The work we have completed so far has put a significant portion of New Jersey’s electrical 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.
And there is still much more work that needs to be done.
Before state regulators approved the three-year, $1.2 billion Energy Strong program in 2014, PSE&G’s original proposal called for $3.9 billion worth of resiliency investments over 10 years. That means more than two-thirds of the grid-hardening work that was originally proposed remains on the drawing board.
In addition to the critical upgrades already under way, approval of the remaining scope of the Energy Strong program also would mean an additional 3,800 jobs for the New Jersey economy – in addition to the 2,000 created since 2014.
The Energy Strong efforts already in progress have gone a long way toward building a safer, more resilient energy grid for New Jersey. We’re pleased that regulators approved this important work. But there is more to be done. We believe the ability to know that this program was going to continue beyond three years would provide continuity of the work, and jobs for the people who are doing that work, as well as greater efficiencies in planning, purchasing and hiring.
Four years ago, Hurricane Sandy forced all of us to consider extreme weather on an entirely new scale. If we are to be truly prepared for the next destructive storm that makes landfall in New Jersey, our preparations, as well as our investments in infrastructure, must be considered in an entirely new way, as well.
John Latka, Senior Vice President Electric & Gas Operations – PSE&G