By Tim LeMere
VP of Distribution Services
We know how important it is for our members to have a reliable electric service, and we are committed to finding ways to improve our system reliability.
Although sometimes it is a challenge, especially during storms, we aim to improve our system reliability 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030 without raising our members’ electrical rates.
How are we going to do this? There are 4 strategies that we are executing.
- Evaluating the lowest-performing overhead lines and strategically relocating or burying them.
- Streamlining our vegetation management process to ensure we have the right equipment, tracking systems, crew structure, and skillsets to proactively trim in the highest need areas on a shorter cycle.
- Working with our power supply providers (Hoosier Energy and Duke Energy) to make significant investments to improve transmission system reliability.
- Utilizing our fiber network and associated technologies along with our employee talent to quickly and remotely sectionalize damage to restore power to more Members faster.
This article will focus on Strategy #1
Let’s start with some history. In the 1930s, Investor-owned utilities supplied power in urban areas but would not provide electric power to rural customers due to the terrain and low resident density. Rural communities banded together and created electric cooperatives. In 1939 rural and agricultural leaders founded South Central Indiana REMC, owned by its members and overseen by a democratically elected board of directors.
At that time, long-term reliability wasn’t nearly as important as building out infrastructure as fast and affordable as possible. This often meant constructing overhead electric lines in the straightest path possible, even if that route was over hills or through woods.
SCI REMC currently owns and operates over 3,800 miles of lines, 2,448 miles of those lines are overhead primary voltage lines. Many of these lines are surrounded by trees that cause most of the outages. Clearing the right of way significantly reduces outages, but sometimes large trees fall from outside the cleared area, breaking poles and damaging equipment. It can be challenging to access these locations with the equipment needed to make repairs, making the restoration time-consuming, especially at night.
By carefully evaluating which lines on our system continually have problems and impact a large number of members, we have created a priority list of lines to relocate or bury.
One of our most challenging lines is located along State Rd 46 in Brown County. This main feeder line for the area stretches nearly a 1-mile through woods, hills, ravines, and ponds. When a pole breaks, a line truck often has to be dragged in and out with a bulldozer or an excavator, increasing the restoration time and taking resources away from other outages.
We are incredibly excited to say that this line is about to be removed! The underground is installed and energized, along with a conduit for future fiber use.
Besides this project, we are currently working on several different areas throughout our service territory. We anticipate completing 4 or 5 projects like this every year—each one providing a significant reliability improvement to the Members served in that area.