Harleton / Shady Shores Outages
Wednesday evening in the Harleton and Shady Shores areas near Lake O’ the Pines the lights flickered and went dark as the URECC members in the area faced a power outage. URECC crews scrambled to the area to find the cause and repair the outage as calls flooded URECC dispatch and the SmartHub app was overloaded with members attempting to report their outages. There have been several outages in these areas as of late, and the URECC social media pages buzzed with frustration and questions of, “WHY?”.
The crews went to work examining the lines as they searched for the cause of the interference and overlooked the substations to see if it would be safe to reroute the power to the area by way of Ore City, rather than Jefferson, as it normally lies. The flicker before the outage typically means a tree or obstacle has fallen on the lines, causing interference and throwing breakers. Being that the substations were not receiving power told the crews that something had disrupted the flow of power through transmission lines, which bring power to the substations from a delivery point, in this case, Jefferson Metering Point. As the substations inspections were clear, power was rerouted to the area by back-feeding the substations from Ore City, bringing power back to the members. The crews worked through the night searching for the interfering object. As daylight broke and the darkness lifted, a fallen tree was soon found lying across the transmission lines. The night before had produced a substantial amount of rainfall, which had pooled in this low-lying area, saturating the ground to softness. The tall tree, approximately 10-15 feet out of the right-of-way had uprooted and fallen across the lines. The right-of-way, had clearly been maintained and cleared to the legal width allowed (typically 15’ each direction from the center of the right-of-way). The URECC crews quickly cut three away and began repairs.
With a beautifully forested and often heavily wooded area such as East Texas, rain will fall, wind will blow, storms will happen and trees will fall. How can an electric cooperative or electric company guarantee uninterrupted power to its members who live deep within these areas? Unless they went in and cut 100’+ right-of -ways, which would illegally encroach upon landowners, this guarantee is almost impossible. Trees will fall.
However, systems can be strengthened to help
withstand such interruptions, and an alternate route to
bring electricity to the area can make the outages less
often and shorter. These methods require permits from
land-owners and the government in some cases,
engineering, quite a bit of manpower, and MONEY.
URECC initiated a plan three years ago to strengthen
this area and those plans are being followed carefully,
but in such a way to avoid a huge expense that would
require members bills to be increased. (Remember that
co-ops are non-profit; all profits earned are returned to members, yet all expenses paid are paid by members. This is why projects are planned over a time period accordingly, avoiding increasing members bills.) URECC would like to share the plans for strengthening our system, some of the work already completed, and preview much of the work still to come.
Re-coordinating the entire transmission relaying system has been ongoing for last three years and has just been completed. URECC has spent over $500,000 on relay upgrades, communications, improvements to SPP delivery points and testing, to ensure proper operations to avoid over-tripping (that is a lower-level problem taking out too many people), and allowing proper safety coordination in back feed situations, (if a back feed is available like Shady Shores being back fed from Ore City).
URECC has also spent $1 Million just this year on transmission RIGHT-OF-WAYS. We spend this amount roughly every other year, plus a herbicide spray program of additional dollars to keep trees inside the easement at bay. Once again, trees outside the right-of-way belong to the property owner, and cannot be trimmed or cut legally by anyone but the owner, so those remain an uncontrollable factor in outages.
The photo above shows the roots of the tree that sat submerged in water out of the right-of-way until it
uprooted and fell across transmission lines Wednesday evening.
URECC has spent and continues to spend money upgrading very old transmission breakers. Working consistently over the last 7 years, half of these breakers have now been replaced. Each one of these breakers costs from $100,000 to $140,000, depending on the voltage class and situation they are in. Some of the earlier replacements removed breakers built and installed in the 1950's to early 1960's. Current replacements are mostly late 1960's to 1970's breakers many of which operate on compressed air much like you would find in an auto shop. These breakers leak down and have to be constantly pumped back to pressure. They also have a tendency to freeze up in extreme cold when the amount of humidity in them freezes. These breaker units have been replaced on a regular cycle for the last 3-6 years and are still being replaced on a regular cycle. The new breakers operate on a SF6 gas capable of withstanding temps and conditions. Even at the price, they are a necessity, and we continue to replace these throughout our system at an affordable pace as to not create a major debt to be paid by URECC members.
One item that will be a major factor in URECC’s service in the very new future is the installation of a new high functioning SCADA system. This system comes at a notable cost, but will enable switching transmission more efficiently and quicker whenever backfeeding is needed to restore power to an area facing an outage. With the existing system, if switching and rerouting power to members in an outage is required, personnel must be sent to the substations to make that switch.
Future plans to strengthen the URECC system include installation of several motor operated switches on some 69kv transmission where we have longer taps up to substations. Those include Cox sub in Camp County, Shady Shores and Harleton in Harrison County for examples. Two of those switches are already ordered and delivered. All of these require building a temporary feed around the tap, which requires an outage on the entire substation, to be able to kill out the pole being worked on and switch installation then another outage to put it back to normal. This is both, time consuming and a large impact on customers, so we carefully pick and choose the times we do this kind of work.
All in all, of over $100 Million we have spent in ten years on the system, likely 25-30% of it is on the transmission and substation side in order to make those outages diminish. Many years ago, it was not uncommon to have a problem on a distribution side that would trip an entire substation or even the transmission line back up the chain because of poor coordination, or because the equipment was ineffective. We have remedied a large part of that the last ten years and will get the rest not far down the road. Now we are switching to more maintenance related things like lightning arrestor installations, SCADA, motorized switching on T lines, and of course a stepped-up right-of-way trimming program on the T Lines. All of these things are very costly, and placed into action so as not to drop a sudden large debt to be paid by URECC members.
The mission of URECC is to provide affordable, reliable electric energy consistent with sound economy, safety and quality management to our members and communities we serve. Our plan is in place and the work is in progress. We will continue to give members the utmost in service as we continue to strengthen our system in safety for employees and affordability for our members.