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As summer slips in and warmer weather increases, it's encouraging to hear that FirstEnergy is pumping money into its Cleveland Electric Illuminating providers.

In a news release Thursday, the company says it is "completing inspections and conducting equipment maintenance in its Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company northeast Ohio territory that are intended to enhance service reliability."

The details?

"Helicopter patrols are completing inspections on more than 1,200 miles of FirstEnergy transmission line circuits located in the CEI area. The inspections are designed to look for damaged wire, broken cross arms, failed insulators, and other hardware problems not visible from the ground. Any potential reliability issues identified during the inspection will be addressed immediately."

And "on the ground, the summer readiness inspections include using "thermovision" cameras to capture infrared images that can detect potential problems with CEI substation equipment such as transformers and capacitors. By identifying hot spots, maintenance and repairs can be conducted prior to a power outage occurring."

This is all good news. For those who endured repeated outages -- mostly in Lake County -- when the weather was cold earlier this year, here's hoping the upgrades and investments will keep air conditioners running when it's hot this summer.

It wasn't that long ago that Northeast Ohio was ground zero for a massive outage that affected millions. How many of you remember that CEI was, in part, responsible for the U.S. power outage of August 2003, when 50 million Americans were without power when transmission lines were incapable of handling high summer demand for electricity?

If you remember, it all started with sagging power lines in Walton Hills that touched it off just after 4 p.m. Aug. 14, 2003. Some were without power for two days. I do remember it well and how quiet everything was.

Before that, the worst storm I was in was the July 4, 1969 storm -- called a derecho -- in Northeast Ohio that only lasted 10 minutes but left 250,000 without power, trees down, massive flooding and impaired travel. I was in the Fairlawn/Akron area for it and those are not the kind of fireworks I like. But I will never forget that night.

But I digress.

FirstEnergy says a new 138-kilovolt transmission line in Geauga County is operational this summer season. Added to that are $ 25 million for new voltage regulation equipment in Eastlake; $14 million on a new substation in Glenwillow; $7.8 million for substation investments in Northfield; $13 million-plus for tree trimming; and $8 million to inspect and replace utility poles.

In case you're wondering, CEI has 750,000 customers across Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Lorain counties.

FirstEnergy has made millions in investments over the past 15 years in our area. Let's hope storms are gentle with us this year.

Follow me on Twitter @KimWendel

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