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FirstEnergy plans $2.8 billion in upgrades

AKRON, Ohio (AP) — FirstEnergy Corp. plans to spend $2.8 billion in the next four years on upgrades at four of its operating companies, and customers will help pay for it with higher rates.

Improvements will be paid for after each phase, so customers won't see the increases in their bills until at least 2015, according to The Akron Beacon Journal (http://bit.ly/18rrKzd ).

The money will be spent to upgrade transmission power lines and substations in the Ohio Edison, Cleveland Illuminating Co., Toledo Edison and Penn Power areas of FirstEnergy's territory. More than 170 substations will be inspected and upgraded, along with 70,000 transmission structures.

Todd Schneider, a spokesman for Akron-based FirstEnergy, said customers' rates will be proportionally adjusted in the four operating companies. He said it's too early to say how much customers' bills would go up, but it would be in phases over the four-year period.

Utilities are allowed to recoup a percentage of any investments they make, in addition to the actual investment, he said.

The investment is on top of a $1.8 billion transmission upgrade project already underway, for a total of $4.6 billion invested in five years, including last year.

The company described the moves as "right-sizing" and shifting its assets away from competitive markets toward making money from its regulated utilities.

As part of the investment, the company said it is looking to areas of growth that include Ohio's shale gas regions.

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