Electric Companies Upgrading Infrastructure After Florence

Jul 26, 2019

Credit Duke Energy

Electric companies that provide power for residents in Eastern North Carolina are upgrading their systems to make them more resilient to future storms and hurricanes. 

Duke Energy, which serves around 150,000 customers in Goldsboro, Jacksonville, Kinston, New Bern, and Morehead City, has several projects underway aimed at strengthening the grid and restoring power more quickly. Over the next three to five years, the company will replace power poles and improve power lines. Duke Energy is also installing self-healing technology which prevents extended outages from occurring, said Jeff Brooks, a spokesperson for the Charlotte-based company.

“This actually automatically identifies power outages and then reroutes power to get service back up to customers. And it can do it often in less than a minute. Sort of like a GPS in your car helps navigate around traffic accidents, this system helps it to automatically restore power. We used it during Hurricane Florence in some of the inland communities and were able to avoid more than 80,000 extended customer outages.”

Right after Hurricane Florence, about 6,000 crews from across the country worked in Eastern North Carolina to fix damaged power lines. The majority of Duke Energy customers had power restored in about 3 days. Some areas with significant flooding had to wait up to two weeks because crews could not get to the damaged equipment to make repairs. 

“The big challenges we saw were access and being able to get around the areas,” said Brooks. “There would be roads you could travel down and then two hours later, those roads were impassable.”

Credit Duke Energy

In preparation for future storms, Duke Energy is installing improved barriers around substations that flooded during Hurricane Florence. In some instances, equipment within the substations may be relocated away from flood-prone areas. Crews are also replacing wood power poles with concrete poles and upgrading power lines across the region.

“One project we’re getting close to wrapping up in Atlantic, Sea Level, and some of those communities a little further off the grid that often see extended outages,” said Brooks. “And we’re actually rebuilding that entire line to give them improved ability to withstand severe weather.”

Several other line improvement projects are underway in Eastern North Carolina. Tideland Electric Membership Corporation, which serves 22,800 customers in Beaufort, Craven, Dare, Hyde, Pamlico, and Washington counties, is relocating and rebuilding power lines along the Merritt Circuit, the longest circuit on their system. The $700,000 project in Pamlico County will increase the amount of power the line can handle as well as make the system more resilient to powerful storms, according to Ben Beagle, manager of engineering and operations at Tideland EMC.

“As we rebuild them, we do put in stronger poles, larger wire for capacity. We also shorten span length where we can. Some spans were really long when they were put in years ago and we’ll shorten spans. All of this makes it a stronger line and more resistant to wind damage and tree damage from these 100-foot pine trees that we have in Eastern North Carolina.” 

Credit Duke Energy

Tideland EMC had over 100 poles break during Hurricane Florence, however, no substations were damaged by flooding. To improve resiliency for future storms, the Pantego-based electric company recently completed a $1.9 million project to upgrade and relocate power lines in mainland Hyde County. The project improves restoration times for residents in Engelhard and Fairfield now that crews have easier access to the line, which runs along North Lake Road. The final phase of a power pole replacement project on Ocracoke Island will get underway in the next couple of weeks. Improving the rigidity of power poles makes the system more resilient to prolonged outages, said Paul Spruill, general manager and CEO of Tideland EMC.

“To the degree we build stouter poles in a more resilient overhead distribution system, not only are we able to stand up to wind speeds, but when trees do fall, a conductor might come down but poles don’t break and hopefully cross arms and insulators survive impact from a tree and that makes restoration much quicker.”

In December, Tideland EMC will begin a $3.5 million project to extend a distribution line around erosion that is occurring on Hatteras Island. The submarine cable runs from Hatteras Island and supplies power to Ocracoke Island. 

During Hurricane Florence, downed trees and power lines caused widespread power outages across inland areas of Eastern North Carolina. Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation, which serves Duplin, Greene, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Sampson, Wayne and Wilson counties, is working to improve the grid and make it stronger for future storms. In an email to Public Radio East, Mike Wood, manager of operations with Tri-County EMC said crews have replaced damaged conductors with stronger more resilient Aluminum Conductor Steel Reinforced conductors in areas where existing conductors were damaged by fallen trees and debris. The electric company has also replaced around 200 poles since Hurricane Florence last September.