Modernization moment: JCP&L feels EnergizeNJ proposal brings added reliability, resiliency while preparing state for future

Fakult says JCP&L is eager to make public pitch for 5-year, $935M infrastructure upgrade

Jim Fakult. (File photo)

Jersey Central Power & Light President Jim Fakult knows it’s easy to use the big-picture phrases when discussing the merits of EnergizeNJ, the massive infrastructure proposal the company will pitch to the public in 2024: resiliency, reliability and modernization.

Who doesn’t want that?

But, when it’s a five-year, $935 million proposal — the largest JCP&L has ever made — Fakult knows he needs to have specifics that are more tangible.

He’s got that info, too. And much of it is about keeping the lights on — or getting the lights back on quickly, starting with:

  • Installing 2,175 new TripSaver devices across 500 JCP&L circuits. These programmable devices work like a circuit breaker in a home with the added benefit of automatically reenergizing a power line within seconds to keep power safely flowing to customers, reducing the size and duration of outages;
  • Standardizing service voltage across JCP&L’s footprint, allowing for additional circuits to be connected as a backup in case of issues with a given circuit. This a modernization that’s long overdue and will have big impact, Fakult said;
  • Upgrading 18 substations to support additional backup power feeds that will help keep the lights on for customers if wires or equipment on their regular line are damaged or need to be taken out of service, as well as increase overall system capacity;
  • Purchasing additional mobile substations to provide redundancy and emergency backup in the event of significant power outages.

“EnergizeNJ reaffirms our commitment to safe, affordable and reliable electric service into the future, ensuring our customers receive the service they expect and deserve from a modernized electric system,” he said.

“This plan represents a transformational upgrade of our electric grid infrastructure, using modern technology and smart devices to help reduce the size and duration of outages.”

The EnergizeNJ plan, proposed in November, will get a look from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, ratepayer advocates and customers themselves in the coming months. JCP&L said the upgrades eventually will cost consumers an additional $4.16 a month — costs that will be added over the five-year project as the upgrades are made.

As is always the case with such proposals, Fakult said JCP&L will do outreach to its communities, pitching its benefits, and hold public hearings throughout north and central New Jersey (JCP&L serves 1.1 million in 13 counties — from Burlington to Essex to Sussex).

And though EnergizeNJ builds upon system enhancements completed since the BPU approved the company’s Reliability Plus plan in 2019, to call it “more of the same” is not accurate.

The world has changed a lot since then, Fakult said, pointing to the idea that COVID pushed more people to work from home (changing where energy is consumed) to the increase in clean energy projects (changing how energy is created and distributed).

Fakult said EnergizeNJ will enable JCP&L to stay ahead of needs rather than react to them.

“When it comes to resiliency and reliability, we have invested quite a bit over the years and made some really nice improvements,” he said. “We’ve been looking at our trends lately and saying we really do need to continue that investment, particularly with the acceleration of electrification.

“This is about preparing the grid for the future.”

Pre-pandemic, approximately 5% of people worked from home; now, it’s 20%-25% — a percentage that’s higher when you include hybrid workers.

“That means expectations for reliability are higher than ever,” he said.

Electrification, whether it’s in houses, commercial properties or vehicles, is coming, Fakult said.

“I think electrification in the future,” he said. “We have to be ready for it before it happens, not after it happens, and we’re trying to catch up.”

Some of the modernization requests are more along the line of what people would think of, including:

  • Upgrading more than 600 miles of overhead power lines with more robust wiring that supports increased capacity and added resistance to high impact storms;
  • Replacing approximately 46 miles of aging underground lines with modern and more protected wiring.

And some are Jersey-centric, including enhancing equipment at central New Jersey coastal substations with more protective housing to lessen the effects of the increased salt in the environment.

Why voltage standardization is significant

Jersey Central Power & Light President Jim Fakult is thrilled with all aspects of the company’s EnergizeNJ proposal — an effort to further modernize and upgrade infrastructure for today and tomorrow. He noted one upgrade that may not get as much attention — but is certainly high in need and value, he said.

Part of the five-year, $935 million proposal includes standardizing the voltage levels coming into substations. Because JCP&L has grown over the years by acquiring other energy outlets, the voltage cables coming into its substations are not uniform (they could range from 4,000 volts to the more standard 12,500 volts. Because of that, JCP&L cannot always easily jump from one line to the next during an outage.

“Replacing them into one common voltage will pick up reliability and resiliency benefits,” he said. “This will give us the ability to really quickly restore customers, so we’re really excited about that.”

JCP&L and Fakult know there will be some pushback on the proposal. There always is. And he’s OK with that. In fact, he said he welcomes it.

“We are always mindful that, at the end of the day, our customers have to pay the bills,” he said. “We pride ourselves in being the lowest-cost utility in the state, a position we’d like to maintain.”

Fakult said the U.S. Department of Energy’s Interruption Cost Estimate tool has predicted that EnergizeNJ proposal will deliver an estimated $3.08 billion return on investment in electric service reliability benefits to JCP&L customers by helping prevent non-storm-related outages and expediting power restoration during significant storm events.

In other words, it pays for itself. And not just in money, but in time — as in fewer outages overall and shorter outages when they occur. After all, Fakult said, that’s what matters most to customers.

“I think, ultimately, what we’re trying to do is enhance the grid,” he said. “A big part of this program allows us to use thicker, heavier wire and heavier poles.

“We’re going to be able to accommodate more load. And then, if we have an outage on one circuit, we can automatically pick up that load on another circuit.”

Fakult said he hopes JCP&L will get approval and be able to get started by the end of 2024.