By DAN DEARTH
5:28 PM EDT, April 24, 2013
Potomac Edison will spend $55 million this year in an effort to limit power outages in Maryland and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, company officials said Tuesday.
James V. Fakult, vice president of Potomac Edison and president of FirstEnergy’s Maryland Operations, said about a third of the money, about $17 million, will be used to trim trees to keep them from falling onto power lines in Washington, Allegany, Frederick and Garrett counties in Maryland, and in Berkeley County in West Virginia.
He said services often get disrupted when trees and tree limbs fall on power lines, particularly during storms.
“Trees are our No. 1 cause of power outages,” Fakult said Tuesday at the Potomac Edison service center near Williamsport. “We need to keep a clear corridor, and that’s what we intend to do with our trimming ... It’s the most significant way we can impact our customer reliability.”
In addition to trimming, Potomac Edison will install about $2.7 million worth of upgrades, including new wires, cables and fuses, to enhance service reliability for about 65,000 customers in Maryland and West Virginia.
The remainder of the money would be spent in other counties in Maryland and West Virginia.
Some of the other local improvements include replacing underground distribution cables in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and installing a new distribution line in the Spring Mills area of Berkeley County to accommodate recent development and future growth.
Potomac Edison spokesman Todd Meyers said electric costs won’t increase to pay for the upgrades.
“These projects already are included in the rate,” he said.
Meyers said Potomac Edison intends to work with homeowners to let them know when the trimming will take place. Workers also will take steps to save trees whenever they can.
He said tree trimmers plan to trim about 209 miles of lines in Washington County alone. On larger lines, Meyers said, workers will suspend saws from helicopters to trim vegetation.
Fakult said the tree trimming project got off to a strong start at the beginning of the year. Potomac Edison already has trimmed trees in Hancock, Hagerstown and the Smithsburg areas.
He said tree trimmers will cut the leftover debris into “manageable pieces” if homeowners want to use it as firewood.
“If not, then we’ll haul it to another location and dispose of them ... It pretty much gets used,” he said of the trimmings.
Potomac Edison has about 50,000 customers in Washington County and 132,000 customers in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.
Meyers said West Penn Power will handle similar projects in Southcentral Pennsylvania.