Superstorm Sandy, a post-tropical cyclone, closely followed by a wicked nor’easter, left more than 1.7 million Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) customers without power. These outages represented two-thirds of New Jersey’s entire population. In a two-week period, the utility restored power to more customers than in any other storm in the state’s history and in the history of any U.S. utility.
PSE&G brought in 1,000 out-of-state line workers and tree trimmers in preparation for the storm. That number grew to more than 4,000. In the first three days, PSE&G restored service to more than 1 million customers.
This was an unprecedented storm that caused an unusually difficult restoration, mainly because of its enormous size and power: It was twice the size of 2011’s Hurricane Irene with widespread impact over 900 square miles and incredibly strong winds reaching up to 90 mph.
When the storm hit on Oct. 29, 2012, PSE&G lost more than one-third of its transmission circuits and half of its subtransmission circuits. More than three-quarters of its distribution circuits were interrupted. The nor’easter put temporary repairs at risk.
Sandy caused twice the number of outages as Irene, which until Sandy, had the distinction of being the worst storm in PSE&G history. Sandy also caused almost three times the number of outages than an October 2011 snowstorm.
Among all the record setting, 48,000 trees were removed or trimmed, compared to 22,500 after Irene. PSE&G replaced or repaired more than 2,400 utility poles, almost three times the number replaced after the last two storms. Thanks to prestorm preparation, PSE&G did not run out of equipment to restore service.
The storm surge affected a number of switching stations and substations located along the Hudson, Hackensack and Passaic rivers as well as two switching stations located along the Arthur Kill, a saltwater channel that separates New Jersey and Staten Island, N.Y. A 4-to-8-foot-high wall of water flooded these locations, damaging equipment. Some stations had never been inundated with water damage in the 50 to 75 years that they existed. Work to restore those stations required painstaking, labor-intensive drying and cleaning of equipment to get them back in service.
Sandy and storms like it have defined a new norm for PSE&G and other Mid-Atlantic utilities. They are now in the process of studying what happened and what they can do better to prepare and respond to future storms. A major issue for all New Jersey utilities was that they can only monitor outages down to the circuit level and not to the customer’s meter. This caused great confusion in detecting individual outages. PSE&G is currently looking into smart meter technology to help solve the problem.