Beginning on Christmas and lasting for several days, Interior Alaska experienced a weather event for the record books. Heavy snow, freezing rain and wind battered trees, causing them to fall into Golden Valley Electric Association’s (GVEA) power lines, damaging poles and forcing widespread outages. Nearly 20,000 GVEA members experienced outages at one time or another during the storm.
As chair of GVEA’s board, I want to take the opportunity to thank the many GVEA personnel and contractors who worked tirelessly throughout the storm to restore electricity as quickly and safely as possible and all GVEA members for their patience, cooperation and understanding as crews fought through the challenges. I also want to explain, generally, how GVEA responds to major outages.
Once aware of a pending storm, GVEA preemptively prepares by notifying line crews and staff to be ready, coordinating backup support as needed and mobilizing equipment and materials. As a storm materializes and electric outages increase, many things happen at GVEA, seemingly all at once.
Additional dispatchers and all GVEA line crews mobilize and GVEA’s outage call center is activated to handle member calls and work with dispatchers, line crews and public relations personnel to ensure that current and accurate outage information is communicated to members. Operations personnel continuously assess road conditions, crew locations, the magnitude of the damage and number and location of outages to determine the most effective, efficient and safest way to restore power.
Dispatchers track outages by location and work to ensure GVEA is maintaining generation to transmission lines. Line crews are typically dispatched to restore outages first to damaged transmission lines, then substations, then distribution supply lines (feeders) and finally to open fuses on tap lines. This process enables GVEA to energize as many members as possible in the least amount of time. If a damaged tap line serving only a few members is repaired before the damaged feeder, the members served by the tap line would still be without power because the feeder provides energy to the tap line. The same theory explains why damaged substations are repaired before feeder lines – substations provide power to thousands of members and energize feeder lines, feeder lines provide power to hundreds of members and energize tap lines. Focusing on large outages first, regardless of outage length, is the most effective and efficient way to restore power.
As bad as the storm was, proper planning and investment in updated technology and aggressive right of way clearing in recent years helped to minimize outage durations. The installation of Advanced Meter Infrastructure meters and the addition of a sophisticated Outage Management System (OMS) allowed dispatchers to immediately pinpoint outage locations and efficiently deploy line crews. The OMS map also enabled members to track outages in real time on GVEA’s website, www.GVEA.com, and follow the progress of crews as they worked to restore outages. The combination of these technologies, coupled with an incredibly dedicated, hardworking group of employees enabled GVEA to restore outages far quicker than might otherwise have been the case.
As GVEA digs itself out from the storm’s aftermath, we are evaluating how best to prepare for the next storm – whenever it might come. We need your help. Be sure that GVEA has your primary phone number on record, the number you are most likely to use to call in an outage, so dispatchers can immediately pinpoint the outage location. Also, please install an address marker that is visible from the road so crews responding to outages know your location. These two steps significantly help improve GVEA’s response time and shorten future outages.
Preparation and planning are critical in dealing with storms. GVEA’s website, www.GVEA.com, has resources to prepare for an outage including a list of emergency supplies to have on hand and how to safely operate a backup generator.
On behalf of GVEA’s board, we are incredibly proud of how employees responded to the storm and their focused efforts on restoring power as quickly and safely as possible. Like so many members, numerous employees were also without power and yet they left their homes and families over the holiday and braved the storm to restore power to members as promptly as possible. Our thanks also goes to all GVEA member-owners for your patience, understanding and encouragement as you waited for power to be restored. It took a collective effort to succeed.
Thank you and happy new year.