Met-Ed Tackles Rapid Service Growth

Economic Development Consultant Joe Malda stands in front of the new 1.2-million-square-foot Starbucks distribution center near York, Pa. The facility, which opened in September 2020, is the company’s biggest distribution center, serving more than 3,000 Starbucks stores in the eastern U.S. and parts of Canada and Europe.

March 29, 2021

When a national industrial real estate service released its report of the biggest leasing deals of 2020, the leading growth area in the country wasn’t a big city like Atlanta or Dallas. It was central Pennsylvania’s Interstate 78-Interstate 81 corridor, which the service dubbed “the mega warehouse king.”

The news did not come as a surprise to Met-Ed Economic Development Consultant Joe Malda.

“In 2020 alone, we saw 23 major projects either completed or fully committed,” Joe said. “That’s 4,000 new jobs, and $1 billion in capital investment in our community.”

The corridor, which runs through the heart of Met-Ed territory, is an overnight drive to one-third of the nation’s population. Last year the region landed more industrial leases – in terms of square footage – than any other U.S. market.

“We’ve added well over 46 million square feet with more than 124 megawatts (MWs) of new load in recent years,” said Steve Iseman, Met-Ed manager, Customer Accounts. “We have customers like Amazon, Starbucks, FedEx, UPS and Dollar General.”

Amazon operates two fulfillment centers in the Lehigh Valley, and is completing another 1 million-square-foot warehouse in Berks County. Amazon’s newest facility will use 4.1 MVA.

Growth presents challenges. The I-78 corridor is relatively rural, with much of the new development occurring on the edge of the distribution system where there is often limited electrical capacity or available facilities.

“A lot of the developers are building on speculation, so the initial information about required load can be very vague,” Joe said. “We work closely with them to accurately determine the maximum potential load.”

For every major developer wanting to tap into the system, Met-Ed engineers perform at least two studies. An Initial Load Study provides a high-level assessment of the development’s impact on substations and the distribution system, along with a budgetary estimate. Following that, a refined, detailed study of required distribution system upgrades and/or capacity additions to the site location is developed.

“We have to determine the impact of every new facility on our system,” said Ron Long, manager, Engineering Services. “Will the new service cause an overload? If we enhance a line, how many poles might we need to replace? Do we need to move load to another circuit or build new infrastructure?”

After studies, system upgrades or expansions need to be completed.

“If a new warehousing site is in a rural area, we might be able to already handle the load presented by that new installation,” noted Dave Cooper, director, Operations Services. “But if an additional facility decides to build there, that second application might tip us over the limit.”

The Impact of 2020

The increased reliance on e-commerce and home-delivery services resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic led to new fulfillment centers. Amazon is building a huge new facility that will require 4.1 megavolt amperes, or MVA, of distribution service (MVA is the measure of total current and voltage in an electrical circuit, used in major electrical installations). PetSmart expanded when its products saw a huge boom as people bought home puppies and kittens to keep them company.

Pandemic lifestyle changes in food consumption led to an increased demand for fresh produce processing and delivery, as well as demand for snacks and fast food. One Chester County borough in Met-Ed’s territory produces more than half the mushrooms grown in America. The company serves major facilities in York and Hanover that are world-renowned producers of snacks like potato chips and pretzels.

Other expanding industries include manufacturing and medical facilities in the Lehigh Valley.

“It’s an enormous team effort – keeping pace with the phenomenal growth of our region, while remaining strongly focused on health and safety.” said Linda Moss, Met-Ed regional president. “The resilience and adaptability that our team has demonstrated over this last year has been impressive.”

The Met-Ed team knows it’s crucial to plan for the future to ensure customers continue to receive the reliable service they expect.

“I can’t say enough about the quality of our team, and the customer service our employees continue to provide,” Linda added. “There appears to be no letup in the pace of growth here in Met-Ed.”