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PHILADELPHIA-PECO completed the $22-million Southwark substation here to serve the needs of the rapidly growing South Philadelphia and former Navy Yard areas of the city. According to Michael Wood, PECO’s senior manager of communications, a combination of redevelopment of certain neighborhoods in the city and significant growth in the University City area and the former Navy Yard have placed a strain on existing substations.

Construction of the substation has “been very targeted in the sense that certain areas of the city have experienced positive economic development. With that, we need to invest in the infrastructure to anticipate increased demand for electricity and upgrade our facilities to handle it,” says Wood. PECO also sees this as an opportunity to modernize some of the city’s aging electricity infrastructure.

“Particularly in the Old City and Center City sections of downtown, the substations and underground infrastructure is decades old and these new facilities will replace substations that have been nearing retirement age,” Wood explains.

Southwark is the third of four new substations in the Philadelphia area. The Tuna substation along North Delaware Avenue was completed in 2005, followed by the Waverly substation in Center City in 2007. A fourth substation, which will support the University City and West Philadelphia area, is planned for completion in 2009. These four substations represent a $120 million investment in the city’s electric distribution system.

In anticipation of the summertime rise in demand for electricity, PECO is also investing in about 80 substations in the communities surrounding Philadelphia.

“In some areas, we’re adding additional distribution automation and communication devices that help us better operate the system and identify electrical faults our outages and respond to them more quickly,” says Wood.

“We also have a number of other new electric substations in the suburban counties. Our summer readiness projects are areas where the city and suburban counties are experiencing growth and we need to either upgrade substations or build new distribution circuits to better distribute the load.”

All told, the capacity expansion projects will account for one-third of the company’s $394 million capital investments for the year.

“Obviously, utility services are very capital intensive and require large infrastructure improvements each year,” says Wood. “There will likely be increased spending over the next five to seven years. It’s a significant commitment by the company to ensure that it keeps pace with growth in our region and modernizes our system.”

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