January 4, 2022
Well, it must be the winter season because no sooner did I write up the summary below than we saw another storm event pass through. This time, a sustained wind hit the area Sunday night and into Monday, again resulting in downed tree limbs in our more heavily wooded areas. At the peak, we actually ended up with more customers out than we had the week before. The good news, however, is that we were able to quickly get a handle on the situation and had nearly all customers back in power by late Monday afternoon.
This additional storm data point has reinforced for me the points made below about system improvements and staffing flexibility. Quite frankly, we’re seeing that our system is simply responding much better to these storm events than we experienced even 5-10 years ago. First, our right-of-ways are much cleaner than ever before due to the renewed focus on tree trimming. The result is fewer limbs coming down where it hurts us. And those that do find their way into our right-of-way are causing fewer broken poles and wire on the ground, fixes that take much longer to perform. Instead, more of the restoration work involves clearing vegetation from lines that are still in the air. This can happen much quicker.
Credit not only to our tree trimming staff here, but also our line crews for all the system improvements they’ve made to strengthen our lines and move trouble spots underground. Speaking of staff, they all again performed admirably to safely and efficiently restore power. We were able to marshal all available resources, including asking those normally in the office to help with “birddogging” or inspecting lines. This critical function helps our crews understand where to prioritize their efforts and is another example where staffing flexibility pays huge dividends.
Finally, both of these restoration efforts were assisted in a big way by the technology investments we’ve made in recent years. Our Advanced Metering system, installed in 2018-2019, allows us to see in real-time where outages are occurring and when customers have been restored. We integrated this information into our Geographic Information System (GIS), installed in 2020-2021, to help us visualize and layout the restoration plan. Having this “eyes and ears” is night and day from the paper maps and phone calls we used in earlier days and truly does help us get power on much more rapidly.
Although I’d like to think this will be our final adventure for the winter, we still have a long way to go and I encourage everyone to prepare for power outages if you haven’t already.
Please stay safe,
January 3, 2022
I hope the New Year is off to a good start for you and your family. We were hoping for an uneventful holiday season at the utility, but 2021 proved it would not go quietly. The last week of December brought a foot of snow to our service territory, decorating the valley in white but also weighing down tree limbs and power lines. Although our system performed extremely well compared to past such events, we still saw outages in many areas.
At the peak, about 1,000 customers were out of power, with the largest impacts in Marcola/Mohawk Valley and areas around Cottage Grove (Lorane and CG Reservoir). These tend to be heavily wooded areas where tree limbs have an easier time finding our lines. As happens when we see these kind of outage numbers, we quickly moved into storm mode with an “all hands on deck” response from our staff.
Crews made a big push from Sunday the 26th to Tuesday the 28th to restore power to all of our customers in just over 48 hours. I’m incredibly proud of the entire team’s effort, including both the outside staff and our team in the office that helped dispatch and coordinate the response. I wish everyone could have seen firsthand the dedication of these employees, many of whom went without sleep for long stretches. Their dedication to our customer-owners is truly a sight to behold.
To those of you who lost power, we appreciate your patience as we worked through difficult conditions to get you back on. While any customer outage is one too many, there were several highlights from the response I’d like to point out:
- System Improvements Matter: Although it’s hard to quantify, the system damage from this snowstorm was significantly less than in any similar event we’ve ever seen. In years past, this level of snowfall would have knocked out several thousand customers for up to a week’s time. The fact that the damage was contained and quickly mitigated is a testament to the distribution system improvements we’ve been focused on in recent years. This includes both capital upgrades (upgrading power line strength and moving services underground) as well as aggressive tree-trimming to ensure our right-of-ways are clear of vegetation. We plan to continue these system improvements over the next five years, as outlined in our 2020 Strategic Plan.
- Staffing Flexibility on Display: EPUD is somewhat unique in the industry in having a non-unionized workforce. Although no one model is perfect, this structure allows us to be extremely flexible in our staffing during these types of major events. We’re able to mobilize our entire workforce without restrictions due to job descriptions or other arbitrary rules. During this latest outage response, for example, we had tree trimmers working alongside our line crews to perform work on the ground, perform flagging, or anything else that could be of assistance. In previous storms, we’ve seen office staff out in the field or jumping on the phones to speak with customers. At EPUD, we truly do wear many different hats and I believe this is one of our greatest strengths.
- CG Lorane Undergrounding: Finally, in at least one part of our service territory we were able turn this restoration effort into a positive. For more than a year, we’ve been working on undergrounding our lines along Cottage Grove Lorane Road. We had scheduled a planned outage to perform the final changeover in early January, but with this area suffering an outage during the snowstorm, we went ahead and made the switch to the underground service. Not only will this allow us to cancel the planned outage, it will also mark a new chapter in reliability for customers along this road. It’s not uncommon for us to dispatch multiple crews for days at a time when this area goes out of power, and no longer having to worry about this will improve outage responsiveness to other parts of the District in the future.
Although we made it through this weather event, I’m also very aware we have plenty of winter yet to come. If the forecasters are correct, we can expect more snowstorms and potential outage events. I encourage all of our customers to make a plan before the weather hits to avoid last minute stress. For a list of steps you can take, visit ready.gov. You can also watch our Steps to Restoring Power video to learn how we restore power when outages occur.
Please reach out to me anytime with questions at email@example.com . I’m always happy to talk with our customers.
Please stay safe,