Why JCPL has fewer outages, faster fixes

Utility: Modern technology, communication key to best realiability scores in decade

Andrew Sheldon//February 15, 2016

Why JCPL has fewer outages, faster fixes

Utility: Modern technology, communication key to best realiability scores in decade

Andrew Sheldon//February 15, 2016

During the recent snowstorm known as Jonas, a docked sailboat in the Belmar area was pulled loose from its mooring in the high winds. Its mast became tangled in electrical wires and interrupted service for 900 utility customers in the area.
Jersey Central Power & Light quickly sent out a crew to repair the damage.
But that’s not all it did.

The impacted customers not only got notice that the issue was being worked on, but the company tweeted out an image of the unlikely sight to let its customers know exactly why they were without power.

JCP&L President James Fakult said it’s all a part of a larger strategy the company has undertaken in the wake of weather events such as Hurricane Sandy: Consistent contact with customers is a key.

“We’re very active in mobile technology — that is one of the big lessons learned coming out of the big storms,” he said. “What we want to do is communicate with our customers the way they want to be communicated with, and a lot of people today want the on-the-go apps.

“We’re set up now to provide that: Customers can go on our website and register for text messages and we’ll notify them instantly of an outage and once we restore service, we text them and let them know.”

While the photo in this incident was unusual, the idea of sending it out was not unique. It’s an example, Fakult said, of how emerging technologies are making the utility more reliable.

“We have a team that goes out as the storm is concluding and start to address the damage,” he said. “It’s an important part of the process.

“It was a manual paper process. Today, they go out with their mobile devices, assess, take pictures and electronically send the information back so we can prepare for the job.

“It saves a lot of time, energy and money.”

According to James Fakult, president of Jersey Central Power & Light, the utility has worked to increase its reliability by partnering with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Unions.
“We’ve developed a partnership with (the union), so if we got into another huge event, we will be training local electricians to do some of the hazard assessment that frees ups our employees to (work on) restoration,” Fakult said. “I think it’s the first of its kind. It’s a great collaboration within the state with key stakeholders.”

When Fakult assumed his position as JCP&L’s president, the now famous “Stronger than the Storm” advertising campaign was dominating the Garden State airwaves.

But the fears born from the storm were still very real in the minds of New Jersey’s residents. It’s what has been driving a lot of the company’s decisions since Fakult took the job.

“We learned a lot of lessons that came out of Sandy and Irene; we spent a lot of time working with a lot of different stakeholders, including the state,” he said. “The (Board of Public Utilities) has done a great job working with the utilities companies and the state.

“A lot of the processes and things we’ve done have been in collaboration with others, and it’s led to a lot of improvements and changes we’ve made. We’ve listened and worked hard to deliver what they want.”

Fakult said a lot of those changes are driven by a desire to provide the company’s customer base with a sense of reliability when memories to the contrary are all too fresh.

“What you’re seeing is a continued improvement in the No. 1 object, which is serving our customers,” he said. “We measure reliability on a number of different levels: the amount of outages customers see and their average length. Those have all improved. That translates directly into our customers seeing better services.”

Specifically, JCP&L posted its best service reliability numbers in 13 years. For 2015, the company showed an 18 percent reduction from the number of outages customers experienced the previous year.

In the pipeline
While the last year showed growth for Jersey Central Power & Light’s reliability, its president, James Fakult, is concerned about the supply of potential young workers coming up the employment pipeline.
So, the company is working with Brookdale and Raritan Valley community colleges under their Power Systems Institute program, to provide students with a two-year degree in electrical technology and hands-on experience that gives them a jumpstart into those careers.
“We’re being very proactive in recruiting and bringing our future line and substation electricians into the company,” Fakult said. “We have our first class in motion, with 44 candidates for future employment in the program and we’re very excited with quality of the students and bring them on the team.”

Last year, JCP&L customers overall averaged less than one outage for the year, with the average outage time being a little over an hour long.

“A lot of what we have done in the past years is a continuous improvement and has reflected out in the numbers you’ve seen through the investments in our infrastructure, people and team,” he said. “There’s a recognition that we’ve improved service and it was greatly appreciated and helps me to see that you’re making the mark.”

One thing Fakult cites for these numbers is an increase in institutional planning.

“The amount of time and effort that we spend on preparing and planning for storms (has increased),” he said. “For snowstorm Jonas, we had a tremendous amount of time for planning and preparing and we were able to restore an awful lot of customers rather quickly in terrible conditions.”

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