Work underway to upgrade West Penn Power’s electrical system

ByShannon J. Cortes

May 16, 2022

West Penn Power, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., is upgrading its distribution system in Butler County to help prevent extended outages, especially during severe weather. The work includes replacing worn equipment, repairing underground power lines and installing hundreds of protective devices on numerous power lines.

“Together, these projects are designed to help reduce both the number and duration of power outages for approximately 15,000 customers,” said Scott Wyman, president of operations for FirstEnergy in Pennsylvania. “Since 2016, we have invested more than US$100 million to accelerate improvements to the distribution system that powers homes and businesses in West Penn Power’s service area.

Crews will conduct visual inspections — on foot and with drones — along a 13-mile stretch of a power line that serves more than 1,800 customers in the Portersville and Slippery Rock areas. Inspections will identify crossties, fuses and other components that need repair or replacement to improve line performance, especially during storms.

Work is also continuing in downtown Butler City through June to convert a section of power line near Center Avenue from 4kV to 12kV, which will result in more even voltage for 140 city customers. . Since overhead transformers in a 12 kV system are larger, crews must replace some of the existing utility poles with larger poles to accommodate the new equipment.

Contractors will place approximately 300 new fuses on 16 power lines serving 13,000 customers located around Butler City and south along the Highway 8 corridor toward Pittsburgh. Fuses are protective devices that automatically open when they detect a system fault, such as a tree branch or animal coming into contact with a power line. Fuses protect electrical equipment from damage while limiting the scope of failures to smaller sections of a power line. This translates to fewer customers affected by outages caused by trees, vehicle accidents or equipment problems.

Finally, an electrical contractor will repair about a mile of aging underground power lines in the Dutchtown Village neighborhood near the main campus of Butler County Community College. Over time, water and corrosive materials from the ground can enter underground cables through tiny cracks and fissures, causing power outages. Using a special process to restore the cable while minimizing excavation of lawns, driveways and roads, technicians will inject the power line with a silicone-based fluid that is expected to extend its useful life by 20 or 30 years. This method fills cracks and gaps in the insulation surrounding the wire, allowing the line to provide reliable, continuous electrical service for a fraction of what it would cost to replace it. The work is scheduled for July and should benefit more than 70 customers.

The upgrades are part of West Penn Power’s long-term infrastructure improvement plan, a US$147 million initiative to accelerate capital investments in the company’s electrical distribution system in five years to ensure continued reliability of electrical service for customers.

This work complements additional work in Butler County by West Penn Power’s sister utility, Penn Power, to meet the future energy demands of the region’s rapidly growing population and to help prevent extended power outages by severe weather events. Ongoing work includes the construction of a new 8,000 square foot distribution substation in Cranberry Township and the installation of automated equipment and technology at substations and along power lines serving more of 20,000 customers in parts of Cranberry, Mars, Evans City, Jackson Township and surrounding areas.

West Penn Power serves approximately 725,000 customers in 24 counties in central and southwestern Pennsylvania.