How does Wiregrass Electric Prevent Outages?
Wiregrass Electric Cooperative’s (WECs) mission each day is to provide reliable, affordable energy to all our members. While we are ready to respond 24/7 to any outage, WEC also works hard to prevent outages before they occur. We utilize several different approaches to maintaining a reliable electric grid. A few are listed here.
Protecting the Lines
It takes dedication and constant attention to maintain our distribution system. Tree limbs, rotted wood, and underbrush all increase the chance of broken poles and lines, and the disruption to our system for possibly hundreds of members. To prevent such damage, WEC has a system for keeping the right-of-way clear around power lines. By removing tree limbs and controlling undergrowth, we lessen the chance of damage to our power lines from falling limbs and brush fires. All of this helps provide reliable service to our members.
Our strategy for right-of-way maintenance involves dividing our system into six sections. Each year, crews focus on a different section to cut and spray the dangerous growth in the right-of-way. We currently trim in a four-year cycle. We work a different part of our system every year, then in the seventh year we go back and start over with the first section.
The first cycle, finished in 2012, greatly improved our system’s reliability. To address problems that arise in between cuttings, we also have a half-cycle crew that circles back and cuts back things that are growing too quickly.
Planning for the Future
It’s not enough to keep the electric system in great shape and the lines free of trees. We must also be ready to meet the growing needs of the Wiregrass region. To help anticipate and prepare for future demand, we develop and follow a four-year work plan.
Through our work plan, we are able to take data from accounting, consumer information, and our mapping system and know where we need to build new infrastructure or improve current lines in the next four years. Power lines can become overloaded as neighborhoods expand or new businesses are built. Through the four-year work plan, we can meet that demand before it has a chance to cause outages.
The Power of Technology
The four-year work plan and the right-of-way maintenance program enables us to greatly increase system reliability — and this means that our members experience fewer outages. We also depend heavily on technology to monitor our system and help prevent outages. The Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, allows WEC to remotely control various pieces of field equipment. The SCADA system allows us to isolate outages and perform switching without rolling a truck. This helps us restore power quickly to many of our members. SCADA will also allow us to know where we have problems on our system in some cases before we receive a single phone call. SCADA makes us much more efficient and certainly reduces outages.
How Power is Restored
Hurricanes and ice storms. Tornadoes and blizzards. Alabama’s Electric Cooperative members have seen them all in the past 10 years. And with such severe weather comes power outages. Restoring power after a major outage is a big job that involves much more than simply throwing a switch or removing a tree from a line.
The main goal is to restore power safely to the greatest number of members in the shortest time possible.
The major cause of outages is damage caused by fallen trees. That’s why your electric cooperative has an ongoing right-of-way maintenance program all year long.
The illustration below explains how power typically is restored after a major disaster, like a hurricane or ice storm. While power restoration priorities may differ from co-op to co-op, electric system repairs generally follow a plan similar to the one illustrated below.Steps to Restore Power (PDF)