NJ utility infrastructure held up during Ida, learning from past
For a storm as devastating as what the remnants of Hurricane Ida brought to New Jersey, power outages remained well under 100,000 statewide and for the most part, were quickly restored.
That was almost nothing compared to the widespread and protracted outages dealt by Sandy nearly nine years ago, and New Jersey utility companies say it's all because of the improvements they pledged to make following the superstorm.
Public Service Electric & Gas raised 26 substations as part of its $1.4 billion Energy Strong program, and more recently, Jersey Central Power & Light spent $97 million to clear tree limbs out of the paths of power lines over an 18-month period ending late last year.
"We also purchased a mobile substation that we can bring around," Chris Hoenig, JCP&L senior communications representative, said. "If there's a substation that is experiencing an outage and needs repairs, we can bring a mobile substation in to keep that area powered while permanent repairs are made."
Hoenig also sang the praises of walls JCP&L has built up around its substations, which not only protected the stations structurally as Ida bore down, but also kept them operational.
PSE&G said that in hard-hit Manville, if one of their substations had not been raised, it surely would have flooded, adding extended power outages to the profound water damage there.
Rebecca Mazzarella, PSE&G spokesperson, said in that borough and other municipalities, there were unfortunate reports of building and home explosions because crews could not get through flood waters to shut off gas lines.
But she said that wasn't for lack of trying on the part of the utility, nor any individual town.
"When we knew the flooding was happening, they helped get our crews out in boats to go shut off those houses to make everyone safe," Mazzarella said.
PSE&G reported almost no substation flooding this time around, a steep contrast from the 29 stations that flooded as a result of Sandy or, earlier, Tropical Storm Irene.
Still, even the relative overall successes of power companies during Ida can provide lessons for the future.
"Ida really picked some unique places to flood for the first time, so those residents and those homeowners were impacted and they have no idea what to do next, so we are working with local municipalities," Mazzarella said.
Take Bound Brook, for instance. More or less wiped out by Hurricane Floyd in 1999, that borough was relatively unaffected by Ida.
"We saw, literally, the landscape has changed," Hoenig said. "Areas that were not flood-prone decades ago, when substations were built, are now flood-prone."
Because of that evolution over the years, the utility companies are urging residents and homeowners to do their part: Follow through with regular inspections, so that you can be sure everything in your home is in good working order before disaster strikes and leaves you in the dark — or worse.
Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email email@example.com.