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Delaware County, Pa., Power Outages Prompt Utility to Propose Microgrid

The microgrid, which could operate independently of the regional power grid during an widespread outage, would supply power to multiple businesses, city utilities and homes.

by Andrew Maykuth, The Philadelphia Inquirer / May 23, 2016

(TNS) -- Peco Energy Co. wants to install a self-sustaining "microgrid" in a Delaware County community that has endured a large number of power outages.

The utility has asked the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for permission to spend about $35 million to install the experimental microgrid in Concord Township, Delaware County, along the Route 1 corridor in Concordville.

The microgrid, which could operate independently of the regional power grid during an widespread outage, would supply power to a 388-acre area that includes the Concord Township Municipal Complex, a fire station, a sewage-treatment plant, a retirement community, two medical facilities, two motels, two shopping centers, and a Wawa store.

The three government facilities and 27 businesses have a typical aggregate peak load of 8.6 megawatts, Peco said.

The microgrid would include five two-megawatt natural-gas power generators, a 500-kilowatt solar array, and two 100-kilowatt lithium-ion battery arrays that would be located at the township building and at the Concordville Fire Station. The plan also calls for an electric-vehicle charging station.

Peco would recover the estimated $35 million cost through customer rates. It says the impact would eventually require an increase of about 29 cents a month for a residential electrical customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours.

In the fall, the PUC responded positively when Peco, in its long-term infrastructure plan, telegraphed its desire to build a microgrid pilot project.

Microgrids, which are more widespread in Europe, are seen as critical for electric utilities to adapt to the growing shift from centralized power plants to a diffusion of local power sources, such as solar or wind installations, fuel cells, small power generators, and backup battery systems.

They can work in harmony with the traditional regional power grid to help stabilize operations, or can disconnect from the grid and operate autonomously.

Peco's Wednesday request to the PUC calls for two conjoined microgrids that can operate independently.

The utility also would upgrade the local distribution network, switches, and communications infrastructure to allow the grid to operate independently. It plans to harden the existing power lines to make them more resistant to storm damage.

Peco said it selected Concord Township for the pilot project because the location provided an array of different customers, including vital government services and medical facilities.

Peco already participates in a microgrid project sponsored by Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. at the Navy Yard.

William J. Patterer, Peco's director of regulatory strategy and revenue policy, said the Concord Township project "will test microgrid network controller technology in a subgrid and is expected to provide useful knowledge regarding microgrid control technology and utility system integration including microgrid islanding, synchronization and reconnection, protection, and system resiliency."

The Concordville area has suffered through an above-average number of storm outages. Last June, 91 percent of customers within the proposed microgrid experienced outages for up to four days because of thunderstorms.

"In the past five years, Concord Township has experienced longer-than-average outage durations because it is served primarily by aerial distribution facilities that are exposed to weather, vegetation, and other environmental factors," Patterer said in testimony filed with Peco's application.

Once the microgrid is installed, the utility expects to be able to restore power within 15 minutes.

In addition to the government facilities, the microgrid will include Maris Grove Retirement Community, Crozer Medical Plaza and Reading Cancer Center, CHOP Specialty Care and Surgery Center, the Shoppes at Brinton Lake, and the Concordville Town Center, which includes an Acme Market, a Home Depot, and a Target.

©2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.