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2016 Reliability Report: Mother Nature returns

When I wrote our 2015 reliability report last year, I knew Mother Nature had been overly kind. The majority of our outages most years stem from weather-related events. 2015 was, by all accounts, a very weather-neutral year in our service area. In 2016, our total member minutes out was about 33 percent higher. However, the difference (40 percent) came from just two summer storms.

Many of you will remember the June 23 storm that brought 100 mph winds to the northeastern corner of our territory. That storm damaged the transmission line that feeds our Lafayette and Battle Ground substations. A few weeks later on July 17, a storm knocked out transmission lines to our Montgomery county substations.

Transmission lines are an ongoing challenge for us because they’re outside of our direct control. We’re working closely with Wabash Valley Power (our power supplier who has direct control of some transmission lines) and Duke Energy (who has direct control of the remaining transmission lines) to improve transmission reliability. Some of those efforts are paying off as two of the lines which feed our Fountain and Montgomery county substations were recently rebuilt, including new poles and lightning protection.

What we do control, however, we do very well with. If we remove transmission outages from both 2015 and 2016, our member minutes out are actually 3 percent less than 2015’s historic lows. We continue to rebuild overhead lines (17.6 miles in 2016) and bury lines in subdivisions, which increases reliability and reduces the need for tree trimming.

Second on the outage cause list in 2016 was tree growth. When we contact you about trimming trees, this is why it’s important. We maintain an aggressive tree trimming program, having moved from a six- to a three-year cycle a few years ago. It’s an investment that has paid off as outages by trees has dropped by 64 percent from 2012.

Almost even with trees was equipment failure. Our ongoing construction work plan is addressing this in 2017 by rebuilding 19.7 miles of overhead line and installing 3.3 miles of new underground line associated with system improvements. Rounding out the top five are wind and lightning damage, both of which were about even with 2015 member minutes out.

Feeder automation technology

Our overall reliability numbers are pretty good. However, we are not satisfied. I’ve mentioned feeder automation technology a few times in this space. It’s a revolutionary advance on our system made possible by the fiber lines we’re laying today in Fountain and Montgomery counties and moving north over the next few years. This technology provides a path for improvements of future service reliability.

Since the first power lines went up in the 1930s, our response to outages has been essentially the same. Crews start at the substation and inspect on down the line to find the problem. This takes precious time when your power is out on a cold winter night. Fiber lines and feeder automation finally bring us real-time communication with our electric system, so we can tell the line workers exactly where to go when there is a problem, reducing the time it takes to restore your power.

Another benefit is limiting the scope of outages across our system. Let’s say a tree limb falls on a feeder line and causes a fault. The further up the line this happens, the more members are affected. Previously, our system would detect that fault and deenergize the entire line, knocking you out of power. A lineworker would have to drive out, remove the tree limb and reenergize the line. Feeder automation isolates the problem area and efficiently reroutes power to you from unfaulted sections until a lineworker is able to make repairs. If you’re not close to the problem, all you notice is a blink or two rather than an extended outage.

Did you receive a member survey?

Speaking of fiber lines, we recently mailed our 2017 member survey to about 2,500 randomly selected members. Please take and return the survey if you received one. The survey will help us understand your satisfaction with Tipmont services and measure your need for and interest in broadband internet and related services.

Though we still have a couple of years before our initial fiber build is complete, we want to better understand the total impact of offering fiber internet to our members before we commit to making any additional investments beyond serving the needs of our electric system. Your thoughts and opinions are the most important component of our analysis efforts and are key to the decision process

If you weren’t among those selected, we still want every member to provide feedback. Make sure your email address is current in SmartHub so we can notify you when the survey is available online. Thank you in advance for taking the survey. Your feedback will provide the crucial information needed to guide future decisions for your cooperative.

Picture of Ron Holcomb

Ron Holcomb

Ron is a 30-year veteran of the electric utility industry with extensive experience in power supply, advanced grid technologies, essential service operations, economic development and value-driven growth initiatives for combined electric and telecommunication utilities. During his career, he has led three utilities as President/CEO and provided management consulting to utilities across the country. Ron joined Tipmont as CEO in summer 2013. He holds a B.S. in Physics from Austin Peay State University and an MBA from Murray State University.

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