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Substation on 138th to be online by year end; tests underway

(Nov. 8, 2013) When Delmarva Power and Light’s new electrical equipment on 138th Street goes online in the next several weeks, residents should notice exactly what they had hoped for – nothing.

“Like a lot of the other things we do to boost reliability, customers are just not going to notice,” said Delmarva’s Jim Smith. “And the SVC project is a little out of the ordinary from a regular reliability upgrade.”

The installation of the SVC, meaning Static Var Compensator, will simply help keep things running as normal. In the electricity business, people typically take good service for granted, and only notice when something isn’t right.

“I always say that customer satisfaction means that when people flip the light switch, the lights come on,” Smith said.

For the past year, DP&L has been working to upgrade its substation on 138th Street. The project is now physically complete and undergoing baseline testing, with the expectation that it will be fully operation by the end of the year, Smith said.

The purpose of the SVC is to even out the resort’s voltage issues. Since there are no major lines over the Chesapeake Bay or coming up south, from Virginia, all of Ocean City’s power is piped down from the north, through Delaware. The farther one goes down the transmission, the more amplified any hiccups in voltage become, an issue which is made worse by the highly seasonal power demand of the area being served.

“We’ve seen dips in voltage that cause concern,” Smith said. “The flip side of that is that we have built up a fairly robust system to serve that demand, so in the winter months we sometimes get the opposite effect and have spikes.”

To help fight these fluctuations, the SVC serves as a giant booster pump, stabilizing the current. For the most part, residential customers will see no effect, other than the general benefit of less wear and tear on the system and, hopefully, fewer and shorter outages.

“That’s something the average customer wouldn’t think about, unless they saw a dimming lights issue,” Smith said. “There are commercial customers who have seen issues on a very hot day during the summer or a very cold day during the winter.”

When the project first came to the city for approval, the major concern was the deteriorating appearance of the existing substation. DP&L has subsequently built a wall, based on the architecture of nearby homes, all the way around the property to make it blend in with the neighborhood. Landscaping on the property is complete with an irrigation system to make sure the plants stay around.

Even if the substation now looks better, many local residents voiced concerns that noise and the suspicion of electromagnetic (EMF) radiation coming from the facility would drive down their quality of life and property values.

Throughout several city hearings, the difficult-to-quantify effects of EMF disturbance on one’s health became a topic of lengthy discussion. Concern over the phenomenon – in which electronic fields from devices interfere with the electrical activity of the human body, is itself somewhat a symptom of the digital. Concerns over EMF radiation from the station itself were said by DP&L experts to be unfounded, given that microwave ovens and cell phones, for instance, emit a much stronger EMF signal than the entire substation is expected to.

Nevertheless, DP&L will be required to take baseline noise and EMF level readings within 60 days of the substation becoming operational, and will send out new readings to the city and area residents every six months.

“We get questions about the issue occasionally,” Smith said. “Typically, as we stated in the hearing, the equipment we have is well within the accepted national and international standards on EMF levels, so it’s really not been an issue.”

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