Public Service Electric & Gas is rolling out its $1.2 billion Energy Strong program to upgrade its gas and electrical grid, with the goal of improving its resiliency in the wake of huge storms.
A small project to upgrade flood-prone gas mains in Wayne began last month, but a much bigger project in Hoboken, which suffered severe flooding during Hurricane Sandy, is expected to begin around July 21, according to utility officials.
In addition, the utility is also planning to improve gas mains in the Bergen County towns of Hillsdale, Westwood, and River Vale, as well as Little Falls in Passaic County and Springfield in Union County.
The upgrades are part of a state effort to direct electric and gas utilities to invest in programs that will reduce outages and the length of time customers are without service when big storms batter New Jersey. State officials say those events are likely to occur more frequently in the future.
In Hoboken, the Newark-based utility is planning to upgrade 60 percent of the gas lines within the city, replacing old low-pressure cast iron mains in or near flood zones with new plastic pipe. The new pipes will be upgraded to a higher pressure to prevent water from entering mains, increasing the reliability of gas service.
Also as part of the program, PSE&G will soon begin to combine Hoboken’s three electrical substations into two and raise the substations above the flood plain. During Sandy, flooding at substations left tens of thousands of customers without power. PSE&G plans to deal with problems at 29 switching and substations around the state that were flooded during Hurricane Sandy under a program approved by state regulators.
“We’re working to start building the resiliency in our systems needed to withstand the kind of severe weather that has devastated our state in recent years,’’ said Ralph LaRossa, PSE&G president and chief operating officer.
The gas pipes that will be replaced were affected by floodwaters from Hurricane Irene or strong surges from Sandy, he said. “Once this work is done, our gas system in these areas will be better protected from future storms,’’ LaRossa said.
“We advocated strongly for the Energy Strong program and are thrilled that we have this tremendous opportunity to upgrade our infrastructure to be more resilient,’’ said Mayor Dawn Zimmer, while acknowledging the disruptions digging up the old mains will cause.
For the first phase of the project, PSE&G will be. The work should be completed by December, according to the utility. City officials said the second phase of the project will begin in 2015.
To upgrade the mains, it will be necessary to dig trenches in the roadways to install the new pipes. As a result, there may be road closures and/or detours, according to the utility.
The Energy Strong program was approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities in late May, after a protracted fight among the utility, business groups, and local officials that often pitted consumer advocates against large energy users. The program wasfrom the $2.6 billion PSE&G originally sought to be approved by the regulatory agency.
The program is scheduled to go on for five years, but the utility initially proposed a much larger effort over a decade.