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In light of recent power outages and failures in the electrical system around Penn, PECO has started to undertake a construction project to revamp the existing systems. 

Credit: Julio Sosa

After several power outages and an underground explosion prompted two UPennAlerts last month, Philadelphia Electric Company has undertaken a construction project to replace some of the electrical lines on campus.

“If we weren’t able to provide service to our customers, we need to look at the system performance and make sure it is operating efficiently and effectively,” PECO’s Senior Communications Specialist Greg Smore said.

On March 29, a slew of buildings on the eastern part of campus — including the Law School, Van Pelt Library and Kings Court English House — lost power around 11:30 a.m. Five days before, an electrical explosion on Walnut Street near 34th left a worker injured.

The power outages and the underground explosion were unrelated incidents, but there may be a connection between the two incidents.

“[The two power outages] happened in different areas at different times.” Smore said, “We were able to provide service again, but then looking at the overall system performance we were able to say ‘it is time of us to take another look at this and make a more holistic repair to this. ’”

Facilities and Real Estate Services was also involved in investigating the outages.

“Penn has been working with PECO to investigate the source of the recent power outages around campus,” acting Executive Director of Operations & Maintenance at FRES Betsy Robinson said.

It is unclear what exactly happened to these cables, but there are a few possibilities.

“Multiple things can happen with underground lines. They are more susceptible to moisture or there might be some damage from excavation or construction. The line could be impacted but might not cause an outage until later on,” Smore said.

The construction work started on April 13 and will last until early May. PECO will be replacing 3,400 feet of underground cable on Spruce Street between 34th and 37th streets, 34th Street between Spruce and Chestnut, Chestnut between 34th and 36th streets, 36th between Chestnut and Ludlow and Ludlow between 36th and 37th. All of the construction will take place overnight to avoid interfering with daytime traffic.

This project is also included in PECO’s 20/20 plan which will take place over the next five years.

“We will be investing an additional $274 million during the next five years to install advanced equipment and reinforce the future electric system to make it more weather resistant and less vulnerable to storm damage,” Smore said. “This is in addition to $300 million of ongoing system work each year.”

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