We recognize that our electric service is wide-reaching, impacting our more than 6 million utility customers who depend on us to provide the reliable energy they need every day of the year. Safety and performance excellence are Core Values for our company and keeping everyone safe is our full-time focus. To drive improvement, our Energizing the Future transmission program and Distribution Grid of the Future program target investments that enhance the reliability and resilience of our system for customers. Routine infrastructure maintenance and storm preparedness plans also play key roles in our efforts to ensure service reliability.
One of the ways we hold ourselves accountable for service reliability is by including metrics — our distribution System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) and Transmission Outage Frequency (TOF) — in our key performance indicators (KPIs). SAIDI represents the average total duration of outage minutes in a year for each customer served, adjusted for major storms. Our KPI goals for SAIDI are in line with annual standards established by the state utility commissions and are set to challenge our operating companies to improve performance. TOF measures the frequency of transmission line outages, excluding those that are scheduled, forced by emergency or operational. The KPI goals for TOF are determined through industry peer benchmarking. We measure our performance on these metrics and report out to employees both quarterly and annually. Please see our ESG data table for our trended reliability performance metrics.
Through our Energizing the Future initiative, we’re upgrading and modernizing our transmission system to ensure customers benefit from a stronger, smarter and more secure power grid for years to come.
These infrastructure investments are driving significant performance improvements on our ATSI system, serving our three utility companies in Ohio and our Penn Power utility in western Pennsylvania. We anticipate continued customer benefits as we expand the program eastward.
With over 700 projects undertaken in 2021 alone, our long-term, multibillion-dollar Energizing the Future initiative continues to modernize FirstEnergy’s transmission assets, enhance operational capabilities and expand load capacity to make the grid more reliable and resilient. These significant transmission investments also support our Climate Strategy by hardening the grid against increasingly violent storms, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and providing the grid flexibility needed to incorporate more renewable energy resources. Across our service area, we’re replacing or rebuilding existing lines and substations, and adding new facilities to meet anticipated load growth and other operational challenges.
For example, we’re reconfiguring substations across our service area to increase capacity, reduce the probability of equipment failure and respond quickly to supply disruptions. In south central Pennsylvania, we upgraded a substation to increase the capacity of the transformer that connects the West Penn Power and Penelec systems, providing a more reliable substation configuration. Another upgrade in Erie, Pennsylvania, helps prevent potential outages on the 115-kilovolt (kV) system through a substation configuration that is more reliable and leaves room for future expansion. Such infrastructure investments are driving measurable performance improvements for our customers, including a 38% reduction through 2021 in transmission-related distribution outages on our ATSI system, which serves our three utility companies in Ohio and our Penn Power utility in western Pennsylvania.
Our transmission investments are also supporting the energy demands of the rapidly expanding EV industry in Ohio’s “Voltage Valley.” We’re building a new 138-kV circuit that extends approximately 3.5 miles to connect electric substations in the area, strengthening the regional transmission system to benefit more than 15,000 customers in Lordstown and nearby communities. When completed, the line will ensure supply continuity to customers during maintenance and unplanned system outages.
As we make these reliability investments, we’re targeting a 20% reduction in TOF on 100 kV-and-above lines by 2025, compared to our 2019 baseline. Notably, these upgrades are essential, not only to continued reliability, but to enabling a sustainable energy future marked by increased renewables and distributed energy resources. Visit our Sustainable Energy Future page and our Sustainable Energy Future page and our Climate Strategy for additional details on our clean-energy focused transmission investments.
Through our Distribution Grid of the Future program, we’re building a more dynamic, smart and secure distribution system.
Across our service territory, we are working to strengthen our grid’s foundation by building a smarter communications network and replacing or upgrading aging equipment. That includes implementing advanced distribution management systems, more advanced automation, smart meters and other technologies to prepare the distribution grid of the future.
Our five-year investment plan includes $1.9 billion for improvements to modernize and enhance reliability and resiliency of the grid through various Distribution Grid of the Future projects across our service area.
It is our goal that by 2025, the average FirstEnergy customer will see a 5%, or nine-minute, reduction in the duration of service interruptions, compared to our 2019 baseline.
For information on our Emerging Technology programs and our long-term vision for the distribution grid of the future, visit our Innovation page and Investor Factbook.
To ensure reliability for customers, we conduct preventative maintenance on our infrastructure as part of our transmission and distribution programs in each of the states we operate. Vegetation management is one of the key proactive steps we take because we operate in heavily dense vegetative areas, where trees are a leading cause of outages. For that reason, keeping our transmission lines, especially along rights-of-way, and our distribution lines clear from vegetation is a priority for us.
Our integrated vegetation management (IVM) process involves conducting inspections to determine which vegetation will interfere with our lines and equipment and employing contractors to reduce incompatible vegetation, either through manual mowing, pruning or herbicide application, as needed. For details on how our IVM process helps cultivate biodiverse, pollinator habitats in our transmission rights-of-way, please visit our Biodiversity and Conservation page.
Our Vegetation Management group manages more than 2.5 million trees every year. We follow four-year and five-year maintenance cycles for transmission and distribution lines, depending on the state or utility service area. Our vegetation management staff performs inspections and approves all work conducted by vegetation management contractors. Annual inspections of transmission rights-of-way corridors are performed to assess treatment effectiveness and identify necessary work to ensure reliability.
We have contracts with more than 30 companies that perform vegetation management activities on our transmission and distribution systems, totaling an estimated 1,500 crews and 3,500 trained, qualified line clearance workers. We ensure our work complies with all federal, state and local regulations and in accordance with the American National Standards Institute’s ANSI-Z133.1 and ANSI-A300 Standards – vegetation management and safety standards set by the Tree Care Industry Association. Forestry personnel also seek relevant certifications, such as Registered Professional Forester, Tree Risk Assessment Qualification, Certified Tree Expert and Pesticide Licenses.
On the transmission side, our Vegetation Management group uses Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) to more accurately and efficiently identify incompatible vegetation for removal. Consisting of a laser and GPS receiver, LiDAR technology bounces light beams off objects around it and captures all the reflected points in a selected range. The LiDAR data can then be used to create an accurate three-dimensional image that shows the height of vegetation on the transmission corridor. As the technology improves, the Transmission Vegetation Management group is using LiDAR data for tree health identification, artificial intelligence and other initiatives aimed at enhancing employee safety and service reliability.
We take other preventative distribution system maintenance steps to identify and correct deficiencies before an outage occurs, including cyclical wood pole inspections, overhead circuit and equipment inspections and underground safety and security inspections. Included in our overhead equipment inspections is an annual capacitor bank inspection, which helps us ensure our system is ready for summer peak loads. Additionally, we implemented next generation penetrometers in 2021 to more accurately monitor the health of our wood poles.
Our Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) program’s team of pilots uses UAS, or drones, to perform aerial inspections and surveys of our infrastructure. These inspections help us identify and assess environmental-related risks – including those posed by nesting birds – as well as maintenance needed to ensure reliability or repair storm damage. Using drones is often safer, faster, more thorough and less expensive than other options. Drones mitigate our impact on vegetation and wildlife, while also decreasing employee exposure to potential hazards.
Our drone pilots must complete a rigorous training program that includes ground school and airspace navigation. All pilots are licensed through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). FirstEnergy’s Flight Operations team oversees the UAS program’s operational procedures and adherence.
Please visit the Biodiversity and Conservation page for details on the important role drones play in our avian protection process.
Our customers rely on us to deliver the safe and reliable electric service needed for their daily lives. While we continue to work to increase the resilience of our system, weather — especially large storms — can have a significant impact on our ability to serve our customers.
Our emergency response processes enable us to respond quickly and safely to a storm or other emergency. Our processes incorporate key principles and concepts found in the National Incident Management System (NIMS) to ensure a standardized, consistent and scalable approach to all incidents regardless of size, scope or complexity.
To maintain a state of operational preparedness, we conduct exercises annually to test our training, as well as key systems and tools. These exercises are designed to prepare employees assigned to service restoration duties and review the restoration processes and storm-management tools critical to getting the lights back on quickly and safely. Additionally, we conduct After Action Reviews with affected stakeholders following all major storm events and emergencies to assess our performance and continuously improve our readiness. Corrective Actions are improvement items that result from After Action Reviews. These actions are assigned to specific individuals or groups to ensure accountability and are tracked to completion.
Our FirstEnergy storm preparedness process comprises:
When severe weather is forecast, we activate formal readiness plans to ensure our customer contact centers can handle a larger volume of calls and our crews are prepared to safely clear damage and restore service.
While employees of our operating companies are more than capable of handling most outages, we have mutual assistance relationships with neighboring electric utilities to help us safely and quickly restore power, as the need arises.
System operators at our regional distribution and transmission operations centers monitor weather forecasts around the clock and coordinate our service restoration resources and support as needed.
After a storm passes and it is safe to assess damage, we identify, assess and mitigate hazards in the interest of safety for our customers and employees. Our dedicated employees and external crews work in shifts around the clock until power is safely restored.
We ensure appropriate staffing for media coverage during outage events, hold daily conference calls about restoration progress with local officials and emergency management personnel, and use social media to share safety reminders and updates.
We issue ETRs to provide customers with an expectation of when service will be restored. Customers are notified of changes to ETRs as they are updated.