Each year in March, I write a summary of the previous year’s electric reliability report. It’s a fascinating exercise each year each year because of the variety in Mother Nature’s behavior, which is a major determinant of outages. 2015 was a very weather-neutral year, which resulted in one of the lowest numbers of total member minutes out in Tipmont’s history. We weren’t so lucky in 2016, as two summer storms caused member minutes out to spike by 33 percent. In 2017, the total number of member minutes out was down about 16 percent from 2016.
2017 had about the same number of storms as 2016, including a nasty round over the Memorial Day weekend. So, what caused the drop? The answer is an improvement in transmission reliability, which improved by 28 percent over 2016.
Transmission lines have been an ongoing challenge for us because they’re outside of our direct control. Most of the transmission lines that feed our substations are managed by Duke Energy. When one (or more) of those transmission lines go down, every Tipmont member on the substation is affected. We find this unacceptable.
Our system engineers have been working with Duke Energy to make significant improvements to those transmission lines. In 2017, Duke completed a rebuild of the transmission lines that serve three of our Montgomery and Fountain counties’ substations. Steel poles, aluminum wire and improved lightning protection should improve reliability in those areas.
Second, our system engineers have also improved our switching ability. In other words, we’re able to reroute power from another substation if we lose transmission. During the 2017 Memorial Day weekend storms, creative switching from our engineers turned what would have been a 24-hour outage in Montgomery County into a six-hour outage after straight-line winds broke five transmission poles.
Further improvements are planned for 2018, including a complete rebuild of our Linden substation. Aluminum wire and a three-fold increase in capacity will offer increased ways to avoid lengthy outages when Mother Nature decides to wreak havoc on our system.
One other positive jump I want to highlight is the number of animal-caused outages, down 77 percent over five years and nearly non-existent in our 2017 report. Tipmont has invested in animal guards, which are slippery, black plastic bands on the poles that make it difficult for animals to climb. However, animals can still jump from trees that are too close to the lines. Our tree trimming crews are keeping up with the growth as best they can. We encourage you to call us if you have tree limbs that are close enough to power lines for animals to make the jump.
Reliability is a core element of our mission. A heartfelt thanks to our team of engineers and linemen who continue to help Tipmont stay true to our mission of empowering our communities.