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O&R - Major Transmission Upgrade Improves Electric Reliability

O&R’s COVID-19 Efforts Continue to Help Customers Manage Bills

Orange and Rockland Utilities, Inc.(O&R) today announced the completion of a major two-year, $17 million project that substantially overhauled the utility’s Ramapo transmission substation in Hillburn by replacing its transformers with new, modern equipment that provides significantly increased service reliability and capacity for O&R’s over 300,000 electric customers.

 

The project was completed in late April when the second of two huge, electric transmission transformers, custom-made in the Netherlands at 300-tons each, was installed in the O&R system and energized. The first unit was installed and energized in May 2019. These transmission transformers convert high voltage electricity from the overhead transmission system to a lower voltage that is channeled into the community’s electric distribution system.

 

O&R President and CEO Robert Sanchez said, “This project represents a major milestone in our daily efforts to improve electric service reliability. As we enter the summer season, Covid-19 has made reliability as important as it ever has been. This project makes the entire O&R transmission system stronger, more robust and more resilient for our families and our community.” 

 

O&R has prepared to meet high summer demand for electricity with continued investments in projects, such as its Ramapo transmission substation upgrade, that improve electric service reliability and with the further development of energy efficiency programs that help customers use less energy, save money and reduce their carbon footprint. Further, O&R has implemented a number of programs to help its customers manage their bills as effectively as possible during the public health emergency created by Covid-19.

 

Electric System Improvement Projects

 

To prepare for this summer’s peak demands for electricity, O&R has made investments totaling over $140 million this year to fortify and improve the reliability of its electric system. That investment builds on the nearly $1 billion O&R has invested over the past 10 years on electric system maintenance and reliability projects.

 

In addition to the Ramapo transmission substation project, those investments include several projects to provide additional storm protection at specific key electric system locations. These storm-resilience electric system improvements include building additional electric circuits and undergrounding selective system-critical locations where multiple overhead circuits are present on distribution poles. Taller, stronger poles and more storm-resistant wire also are being installed at key locations.

 

In addition, several operational steps --- from line clearance work in the form of specific tree-trimming projects and infrared inspections to transmission line aerial and foot patrols and distribution equipment testing and inspections – also are key in O&R’s delivering safe and reliable electric service this summer.

 

O&R also continues to further automate its electric system through smart grid technological improvements. The smart grid integrates state-of-the-art equipment and technology with advances in computer analysis, communications, monitoring and control to significantly enhance system reliability, efficiency and overall quality of service.

 

For example, “smart” operating equipment – communication systems, automated switches, sensors and other “intelligent” devices – enables the electric system to detect where issues on the circuit exist and automatically isolate those issues. This isolated section of the circuit would remain out of service until repairs are made, but the remainder of the circuit -- often serving hundreds of other customers -- would remain energized, providing uninterrupted service to those customers.

 

All these programs are considered “essential work” under the public health emergency standards set by the states of New York and New Jersey. 

 

While that essential work is being performed during the public health emergency, O&R employees are required to follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for social distancing and personal hygiene including frequent hand washing or hand sanitizing. Employees also are required to wear protective medical masks. O&R asks members of the public to maintain appropriate social distancing when they encounter O&R employees working in the field, to provide for mutual safety. The following video shows a crew’s social distancing in action: https://bcove.video/3b4FvKW

 

Smart Meters

 

One of the other leaders of O&R’s electric service reliability line up this summer is the smart meter program.

 

Smart meters’ benefits go beyond power monitoring to provide individuals greater control over their energy consumption. Customers will be able to see when their consumption fluctuates and can then take action to further manage their usage. The smart meters also facilitate quicker restoration of service after a storm event by communicating the precise location of service interruptions. Since 2017, O&R has invested approximately $92 million in this project in New York.

 

Overall, O&R plans to install 230,000 electric smart meters and 134,450 smart gas modules in its New York service area by the end of 2020. That estimate may be revised as O&R has temporarily halted installation because of the public health emergency.

 

Summer Bill Forecast, COVID-19 and Bill Management

 

Orange & Rockland (O&R) is forecasting that a typical New York residential electric bill based on typical summer residential usage of 600 kWh will remain about the same this summer for that level of usage as compared to last summer.

 

The typical O&R residential customer in New York using an average of 600 kWh of electricity per month last summer saw, on average, a monthly electric bill, which consists of both electric supply and delivery costs, of $126.48.

 

That monthly bill for using 600 kWh of electricity in the summer of 2020 is expected to remain nearly the same, decreasing 0.3 percent, on average, or 40 cents to $126.08. O&R buys electricity on the wholesale market and provides it to customers at cost.

 

But, because of the public health emergency and its stay-at-home orders, residential usage has presumably increased because most families who are not usually home during the day are now home, according to the April 7 Short-Term Energy Outlook issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). And, those families are using all the electronic devices from computers to flat screen TVs that they would ordinarily use when they got home after spending the day at work or school, EIA said. That increased at-home usage all takes place now, before the air conditioning season --- with its higher electricity use and its resulting higher electric bills --- begins.     

 

Stay-at-home orders not only created unanticipated higher home electric usage and its accompanying higher bills, but the orders also shut down nearly all businesses, costing some O&R customers their regular paychecks, and some of them even their jobs.

 

That’s why O&R took immediate steps when the shutdown was ordered to try to moderate its impact on O&R customers by:

  • Stopping shutoffs of electric and natural gas service due to non-payment during the time of the public health emergency. We will continue to shut off service when there is a safety issue.
  • Not billing new late-payment charges for all customers and suspending the fee charged to a customer who is unable to grant access to their property.
  • Conducting business with customers 24/7 online via www.oru.com/myaccount. or by downloading the free O&R mobile app.
  • Providing residential and commercial customers with helpful links to company, state and local assistance agencies. To view these links, go to www.oru.com and click on the payment assistance button.
  • Offering flexible payment arrangements. Customers can call O&R to discuss flexible payment arrangements Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 1-877-434-4100.

O&R also has donated $30,000 to three local organizations that support the hungry to help them feed the steeply increasing numbers of our neighbors who have lost their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. These advocates for the hungry are: The Center for Food Action (CFA) in Bergen County, N.J., People to People in Rockland County, N.Y. and The Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan, Inc. (CFOS) in Orange and Sullivan counties, N.Y.

 

Energy Efficiency

 

To help its customers use electricity this summer as wisely as possible, O&R is offering a number of energy efficiency programs for residential, small business and commercial and industrial customers.

 

Among those programs is O&R’s online store. The My ORU Store www.myorustore.com is a digital marketplace that offers O&R’s residential customers a wide variety of energy-saving household products including LED lights, water/energy saving devices, advanced power strips, smart thermostats and connected home products. The My ORU Store makes saving energy and money simple, safe and easy and ships right to your door.

 

Eligible New York customers can receive instant rebates when they purchase energy-saving products and services on the My ORU Store and can receive additional rebates when they enroll their smart thermostat in O&R’s innovative Bring Your Own Thermostat program.

 

O&R developed these programs to more closely align its energy-efficiency efforts with the New York State Public Service Commission’s (PSC) initiatives to modernize the state’s energy utility industry.

 

Since 2009, 47,000 customers using these programs have reduced carbon emissions by over 592,000 tons.  In 2019, customers saved 226,000 MWh of electricity, 159,000 Dth of natural gas, and reduced peak electric demand by over 47 MW.

 

That 226,000 MWh is enough energy to power over 28,000 homes for one year, and that 592,000 tons of carbon is equivalent to taking 126,000 cars off the road. The 47 MWs of peak electric demand is enough to meet the peak demand needs of eight Palisades Malls.

 

To learn more about O&R energy efficiency programs, visit us at www.oru.com/save

 

Orange and Rockland Utilities, Inc. (O&R), a wholly owned subsidiary of Consolidated Edison, Inc., one of the nation’s largest investor-owned energy companies, is a regulated utility. O&R provides electric service to approximately 300,000 customers in southeastern New York State (where its franchise name is Orange & Rockland) and northern New Jersey (where it’s Rockland Electric Company) and natural gas service to approximately 130,000 customers in New York.