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San Francisco-based utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) has completed its Cornerstone Project - a multi-year effort to improve electric service for customers by focusing on reducing both the frequency and duration of outages.

PG&E says that in 2010, it was authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission to invest $357 million to improve electric distribution system reliability through a three-year program that leveraged existing infrastructure to minimize costs and fully realize reliability benefits for customers.

According to the utility, the program contributed to improved electrical service by focusing on three areas:

- Installing intelligent switches on more than 500 electrical circuits. Through December 2013, PG&E reports that more than 230,000 customer interruptions have been avoided by utilizing this smart grid technology.

- Upgrading rural circuits. The utility installed more than 5,000 sets of fuses and 500 line reclosers on more than 440 of the worst-performing rural circuits to isolate service interruptions and minimize their impact on customers. The installation of this equipment, PG&E notes, has resulted in a 33% reduction in the number of customers experiencing sustained outages compared to 2010 performance levels.

- Enhancing substations and circuit interconnectivity. Technicians replaced and upgraded substation equipment to improve operational flexibility and added circuit capacity to maintain or restore service when electricity needs to be rerouted in the event of an outage. These upgrades can also handle an increase in demand during heavy load conditions.

PG&E says that customers have seen a 40% improvement in the average duration of a service disruption and a 27% improvement in the number of customer interruptions since 2006, with the Cornerstone Program being a key component in this performance.

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