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Perspective: Weather - The Unknown Variable

Weather is the single biggest variable affecting your power. It has the largest impact on your bill and is the most likely cause of an outage. Unfortunately, it is beyond our control. But we can be prepared for stormy weather, and we are.

We know that when it is your power, one minute is too long. We agree: Any outage is too long. Power outages can interrupt business, delay school openings and make it much more difficult to live your life comfortably. Making our system less vulnerable to weather-related outages is a priority, as is reducing the time it takes to restore power after an outage occurs.

Two years ago, we completed a system-wide upgrade to smart meters. These meters installed on customer homes and places of business allow us to more-precisely pinpoint where on the system an outage has occurred so we can get it fixed faster. Through a sophisticated network of about 213,000 AMI meters and computerized systems – Outage Management, Geographic Information, Customer Information, Supervisory Data Control and Acquisition – we monitor the f low of electricity through the 79 substations, more than 13,500 miles of energized wire and thousands of pieces of equipment that deliver power to our members’ homes and businesses constantly. These systems allow us to quickly identify and respond to outages, remotely engaging equipment or dispatching crews to make repairs. Coupled with line automation improvements, smart meters reduced outage time by five percent in 2014.

A new automated distribution project begun last year will continue to improve our ability to respond to outages. Through this multi-year project, we will replace around 200 manually-operated switches with reclosers. These automated devices monitor the current in the line and operate independently, as well as remotely by our System Control Center, to keep the power on. Once installed, they will help keep more members from losing power in the first place, and restore power more quickly when outages do occur.

We are also adding four new substations and upgrading more than 60 miles of transmission lines. We are doubling and tripling the lines running between our 79 substations to create a redundant system that improves reliability. Infrared technology is used to examine our substations and ensure all the parts and pieces are in top working order, limiting equipment failure.

The biggest threat to the power supply in a storm is falling trees and tree limbs. A vigorous right of way maintenance program ensures that those are kept trimmed as far away as possible from our lines. We have 26 crews trimming back limbs and trees every day.

The causes of some outages, such as wind or the occasional ice storm, are out of our control. But we do everything we can to limit the damage Mother Nature can throw at our distribution system. And when our best efforts to avoid outages fail, we have a comprehensive Emergency Restoration Plan that swings into action, mobilizing employees and equipment to respond to widespread power outages in an orderly, effective manner to get the lights back on.

As advanced as our systems have become, we could not serve you without the trained professionals we employ. Our job is to keep the electricity flowing no matter the circumstances. To do that, we rely on those who are in the field, as well as those at work in the local offices. We have hundreds of employees who gladly answer your calls and meet with you in person, monitor outages and dispatch crews from the control center, stock trucks and those who put on heavy coats, wield chainsaws and work long into the cold night repairing lines to restore your power. I am thankful for their dedication every day, but especially during emergencies.