FirstEnergy has announced plans for a $626 million investment that includes equipment that the utility says would reduce the number and duration of power outages in the Valley and other parts of Ohio.

According to a news release, the so-called Ohio Grid Mod II plan filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio would expand investments in smart grid technology.

FirstEnergy says the four-year proposal would build upon system upgrades completed since the PUCO approved the utilities’ Grid Mod I plan in 2019.

If approved by the PUCO, a typical FirstEnergy Ohio utility residential customer could expect to see an average monthly charge of about $2.40 for the length of the Grid Mod II plan.

According to FirstEnergy, the Grid Mod I program has resulted in improved outage restoration times for customers in areas where the smart technology was installed, including thousands of Ohio Edison customers in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

FirstEnergy says that this part of northeast Ohio has seen average restoration times improve by nearly half an hour in more complex outage situations, such as equipment damage from severe weather or a vehicle accident.

“The projects we’ve completed under Grid Mod I have proven to be successful in reducing many power interruptions. This has laid the foundation for us to further enhance service reliability across our entire service area in Ohio,” said Sam Belcher, senior vice president of FirstEnergy Operations.

Grid Mod II plans call for the installation of automated equipment on nearly 240 distribution grid sections that can automatically isolate problems, minimize the number of customers impacted by an outage, and quickly restore electric service.

In addition, voltage regulating equipment placed on nearly 220 grid sections that can provide energy savings by reducing the amount of electricity that must be generated and that allows all customers served by a single power line to receive the same flow of reliable power by evenly distributing electricity down the line.

The plan would also include installation of 700,000 smart meters along with the necessary supporting communications infrastructure and data management system.

 Calling it the latest in metering technology, FirstEnergy says smart meters enable customers to better track their energy consumption and eliminate estimated readings.

Grid Mod II would offer smart thermostat rebates of $50 per thermostat and customer energy management reports for residential customers that will enable them to manage their energy usage.

 In the future, FirstEnergy says smart meter benefits also will include the ability to detect and locate outages more quickly and provide more accurate and timely storm restoration information.

The filing also includes several pilot programs that could provide enhanced customer benefits, such as:

  • Programs designed to support the adoption of electric vehicles (EV) across the company's Ohio service territories. Central to these programs is the testing of higher capacity residential and commercial EV chargers that can charge vehicles faster, the ability to reduce costs by shifting charging demand away from peak demand periods and the use of EV chargers that permit the bidirectional flow of power so that certain EVs can both draw from and contribute power to the grid. The residential program will consist of up to 600 EV charging ports at residential customer homes, and residential customers electing to participate will receive incentives of up to $750. Two commercial programs offered as part of the pilot include incentives of up to $2,000 per EV charging port for up to 300 commercial customer locations and incentives of up to $20,000 for up to six commercial or governmental customers with ten or more fully electric vehicles capable of bidirectional power flow.
  • Installing a battery energy storage system designed to support increased EV charging load along the Ohio Turnpike and enhance grid reliability.
  • Installing automated devices in neighborhoods throughout Ohio Edison and Toledo Edison's service areas, particularly in areas prone to animal- or tree-related outages. The devices work like a circuit breaker in a home that shuts off power when trouble occurs, with the added benefit of automatically re-energizing power lines within seconds for certain types of outages to keep power safely flowing to customers.

The proposed plan includes protections for customers, such as caps on recovery of Grid Mod II costs, annual PUCO audits, the companies' reporting of metrics and a quarterly collaborative meeting with stakeholders.