Keeping the Lights On
by Bob Hance on Wednesday, March 2, 2022
As you’ve probably gathered, I’m not a “business-as-usual” kind of guy. Neither is anyone on my team. Every day, we work hard to bring you the best service experience possible, and we regularly look for ways to improve and enhance what we do. I want to share some of what we have been doing with our electric infrastructure to improve reliability and modernize our system.
A few years ago, I shared details on our distribution automation (DA) project, which utilizes our two-way fiber communications system to give us the power of real-time monitoring and intelligent control. That’s fancy talk for “making our grid smarter.” DA identifies and isolates outages and automatically reroutes electricity where possible to reduce impact. In non-outage situations, it helps us monitor equipment and more readily identifies problems.
In our southwest territory, we’ve installed smart DA reclosers on 98% of our substation circuits and plan to add at least 50 DA devices throughout the system by the end of 2023. On the southeast side, we’ve added smart reclosers to 80% of our substation circuits and will add more DA devices once we complete work on our southwest side.
This investment in smart technology goes hand in hand with our other efforts to keep our equipment in tip-top shape.
Each year we test select poles to evaluate their stability and overall condition. Any that fail the test get replaced the following year. With roughly 100,000 poles in our system, we can’t possibly test all of them every year, but we do ensure all of them get evaluated every five years.
Additionally, where needed, we have begun replacing our copper wire with aluminum conductor steel-reinforced wire. Doing so helps us handle additional load growth and, in some cases, enables us to create or improve our tie lines between substations. We use tie lines to reroute electricity when necessary, like when there’s an outage.
When we replace the old wire, we also ensure the distance between poles is an ideal 225-250 feet. That sometimes means moving or adding poles or updating the construction of a pole. We also replace poles as necessary during the process.
Last, let’s not forget our tree and brush removal program, where we actively remove obstructions from around our lines. This ongoing effort is our first line of defense against trees and animals coming in contact with lines and causing outages and safety hazards. We can have the smartest grid in the world, but if we don’t keep the lines clear, we simply set ourselves up for never-ending battles with Mother Nature.
As you can imagine, maintaining roughly 4,000 miles of electric lines and equipment is no small feat. However, these projects help ensure that our system runs smoothly and that we can respond efficiently as possible when issues arise.