Our Energy Working for You: Power Outage Restoral from a Lineman’s Perspective
By Al Reiter, Energy Advisor
While MVEC is working on many fronts to ensure reliable power to our members, outages still can occur. We are going to do a “virtual” ride along with an MVEC lineman to see the efforts taken to safely restore power in the event of an outage.
Lead Lineman, Jared Howard, has 21 years of experience and has seen a variety of outage calls in all kinds of weather conditions. For the purposes of this article, we will look at a call after the normal work hours.
Initial Outage Report: MVEC member reports outage by calling the main number (800-927-6068), the after-hours number (800-582-8998) or online at mvec.coop. The quickest way to enter your outage is via the online method. Even
if the power is out and you can’t use your laptop or tablet, you can still report outages online using a cell phone to go to the Cooperative’s website.
Outage Dispatch (20-30 minutes of time): Jared receives a call from CRC (Cooperative Resource Center, MVEC's after-hours call center), informing him of an outage and what details they know of the incident. The more information the
member observed and can report on what occurred can reduce the time to troubleshoot the repair.* Jared will contact the other linemen on call and they head into the shop. *Note: See ‘Why It’s Important for MVEC to Have Your Current Contact Information’ article on page 7 for information on how MVEC having your correct phone number impacts outage response time).
Assembling Crew (5-10 minutes of time): The linemen arrive at the Anamosa shop (or Peosta, Manchester or Maquoketa outposts depending on the area of the outage) to get their truck and depart for the outage location. The aerial “bucket” truck itself has a variety of equipment, parts, wire, and safety gear to address the most common issues. If it is a larger event, additional MVEC outside and inside staff will also respond. If the outage involves an accident, MVEC crews will be working closely with Emergency Services dispatched to the scene. While the bucket truck can typically help in making repairs quickly, there are still areas of the MVEC service territory that service trucks can’t get to, so in some cases, the line crews will have to get back to basics by strapping on their pole climbers and climbing up the pole (often times in less-than-ideal weather).
Arrival on Scene/Initial Outage Assessment (10 -120 minutes): As the crew heads to the outage location they will evaluate reported outage tickets to determine if the outage is affecting one member or is more widespread. The Cooperative’s various technology platforms are also able to provide data that will help determine the location and magnitude of the outage. The automated meter system can help determine what other meters in an area might also be out of service and the SCADA system collects information for every fault that occurs on the system which can help to pinpoint the exact location of the problem. Depending on the weather conditions and how many members are affected, the time needed for the crew to get to the job site and identify the issue can vary from minutes to hours. From the view of the member, they may notice the truck making several trips by their home or business and this is part of the process in isolating the issue. Jared notes this can be one of the most challenging aspects of the process, something as small as a crack in a pole insulator during a rain can be hard to find.
Repair/Restoral Work (10-60 minutes): Once they are confident they have found the problem, repairs start. As with all steps in the outage process, safety for the member and safety for the linemen are the primary concern. Isolating and grounding the affected portion of the system helps to make it safe to work on. One of the biggest dangers that Jared identifies is vehicles driving by crews when they are out on a call. He asks drivers to slow down and leave plenty of room as they go by the crew.
All-Clear/Reenergize (10-20 minutes): After the repair is completed, the team has to patrol the line, often on foot, to ensure that lines and equipment are clear and it is safe to reenergize. The time for this can be impeded by creeks or rivers, and vegetation or brush in the path of the right of way. Seeing that it is safe to proceed, they will turn the power back on and verify all members have power.
Assuming this all goes as planned, the outage is complete and Jared contacts CRC to notify them. The call is done and they return home to their families and are ready for the next call. For Jared, the most rewarding part is getting the power back on for the members.
We understand that our members rely on electric power for so much of their lives and expect it to be available at all times. As Jared has described, there can be many challenges with getting service restored. MVEC is extremely proud of the commitment of our line crews, tech services, and dispatch center employees not only for keeping the power from going out with our routine maintenance efforts, but for restoring service when it goes out in a safe and quick manner at all times of the day and regardless of what the weather is doing. Over the last five years, the outage length for a non-major storm event averages 75 minutes in duration. Even though outages are disruptive, they are inevitable. Hopefully this timeline gives you a better understanding of the work the linemen are doing to get the power back on as safely and quickly as possible.