FirstEnergy’s $40 million substation to serve natural gas production, other customers

Michael Bradwell
Observer Reporter

Construction has begun on a new FirstEnergy Corp. transmission substation in Smith Township to help meet the increased electrical usage of the area’s expanding Marcellus Shale gas industry. 

The project also will reinforce the regional transmission system which is expected to benefit more than 40,000 West Penn Power customers in Allegheny and Washington counties.

The $40 million project will support two natural gas processing facilities being developed in the Burgettstown area that are projected to use more electricity annually than approximately 100,000 homes.

In August 2015, MarkWest Energy Partners announced it would construct a processing complex near Burgettstown – its sixth in the Marcellus Shale.

MarkWest, now a subsidiary of MPLX LP, said it would build the Harmon Creek Complex in Smith Township to support the natural gas output of Range Resources.

The site was originally named the Fox Complex, before it was renamed when MarkWest was acquired late last year by MPLX, the midstream master limited partnership of Marathon Petroleum Corp. The processing complex had been placed on hold.

Jamie Harshman of Harshman Engineers, the engineering firm for Smith Township, said last week it has received no indication from the company that it has changed its status from “hold” on the project.

MarkWest spokesman Kevin Hawkins said later in the week the company plans to bring it online in 2018.

The other processing complex in the township is one proposed by Energy Transfer Partners.

In March, the Smith Township board of supervisors approved ETP’s plan for the proposed Revolution cryogenic plant on a 135-acre site off Point Pleasant Road. The plant would separate natural gas into methane, ethane and liquefied gas by using extreme cold to parse out the gas components.

Natural gas liquids from the plant would be delivered on Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East pipelines to the Marcus Hook industrial complex near Philadelphia. Residue gas from the facility would be delivered to ETP’s Rover pipeline, which will move gas to the Midwest and Canada next year.

Harshman said last week that the company has begun earthmoving and site preparation on the project. ETP did not return a call seeking additional information on the plant.

Recently, FirstEnergy construction crews on the 20-acre site were working on breakers and capacitors for the new substation off Harmon Creek Road. Construction site supervisor Dave Carroll said part of the facility will be in operation in early December.

The project also includes erecting a new transmission line to connect the new substation to an existing transmission line nearby.

Another key aspect of the project is the installation of specialized voltage-regulating equipment designed to respond to real-time electrical conditions, boosting or reducing voltage as needed to maintain consistent levels on the regional transmission network.

Slated for completion in June, that work involves installing capacitor banks, circuit breakers, communications equipment, a modular control building and two large transformers manufactured in Wisconsin that each weigh nearly 280,000 pounds.

Carroll said that when completed, the substation will be operated by remote control from FirstEnergy’s Fairmont, W.Va., operations center.

FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Meyers said that while most substations aren’t visible, they’re indispensable in ensuring that the flow of electricity is constant for consumers of all types.

“People don’t see them,” Myers said, “but this is a major project. I don’t think people understand how complex the grid is.”

“FirstEnergy’s infrastructure enhancements continue to help support natural gas activity in Western Pennsylvania, said David W. McDonald, regional president of West Penn Power, said in a statement. “This project also will benefit existing customers by providing additional capacity and voltage support to our regional transmission network, especially commercial and industrial customers using specialized equipment sensitive to voltage fluctuations.”

The project is part of FirstEnergy’s plans to invest more than $200 million in 2016 in the West Penn Power area to help enhance service reliability.

Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line Co., a FirstEnergy transmission affiliate, is building and will own the new substation.