volume 66 - issue 5 - may 2016
Putting reliability to the test
SMECO has been investing a substantial amount of time and money into upgrading the transmission and distribution systems in Southern Maryland to ensure continued superior reliability. These upgrades proved their value in 2015.
The Cooperative completed the Southern Maryland Reliability Project in November 2014. The seven-year, $108-million project was constructed under budget and ahead of schedule and completes a 230-kilovolt (kV) loop throughout SMECO's service territory. In just six months after the project's completion, on April 7, 2015, power went out for thousands of people from southern St. Mary's County to College Park and to many federal buildings in Washington, including the White House. An insulator on a Pepco line failed and caused the transmission line to fall to the ground. SMECO lost electric supply to the Ryceville and Hewitt Road stations, and Pepco lost supply to the Morgantown and Chalk Point interconnect locations. Thanks to the completion of the 230-kV Southern Maryland Reliability Project, power to most SMECO customers was restored within about half an hour.
On September 22, 2015, faulty Pepco equipment, again in the Ryceville station, caused another widespread transmission outage. This time, a leaking potential transformer exploded and caused a fire. Debris scattered throughout the station and broke windows on a SMECO truck parked inside the station where two employees were inspecting SMECO equipment. The 230-kV Reliability Project came to the rescue again. Having the completed 230-kV transmission loop through the Cooperative's service area enabled SMECO to quickly restore power to its customer-members.
SMECO's redundant transmission loop provides reliability in terms of restoring power as well as providing sufficient capacity. As people become more and more invested in electric appliances and gadgets, and as population increases, the demand for electricity increases. On February 20, SMECO customers' electricity usage reached a new peak of 1,002.7 megawatts (MW), surpassing the previous peak in 2014 by more than 60 MW. SMECO expects the new 230-kV line to provide enough capacity to see us through the next 50 years.
SMECO is focusing on the most necessary electric system upgrades first. In 2014, the Cooperative began replacing an aging single-circuit 69-kV line with a double-circuit line on new steel poles from the Hawkins Gate switching station near La Plata to the Westlake substation near the St. Charles Towne Center. The double-circuit transmission line adds capacity and improves reliability. The line was energized in December and was the first of multiple projects planned for upgrading the infrastructure in Charles County. Increased growth in Waldorf made the Westlake substation one of the most heavily loaded substations in SMECO's service territory and the perfect choice as the first phase of the upgrade in Charles County. The upgrades continue, including a new transmission line feeding the new Wooded Glen and Dorchester substations in the La Plata area.
SMECO's dedication to superior reliability was recognized during a Public Service Commission hearing in August 2015. SMECO was acknowledged as the only electric utility in the state to meet or exceed all of the service quality and reliability standards for 2014.