With the blizzard of 2021 safely in our rearview mirror, IREA is taking stock of what went well and what can be improved before our next snowstorm. One thing is clear, however: IREA’s system planning, proactive grid maintenance and aggressive vegetation management programs are paying off in providing increased reliability to our members who depend on the electric service we provide.
At the peak of “Snowmageddon 2021,” IREA had fewer than 100 customers without service at any given time. IREA’s largest single outage impacted 77 homes in Parker when a snowplow knocked a pad-mounted transformer out of service. IREA line workers braved the intensity of the driving snow and uncertainty of mounting road closures to replace the transformer and restore power as quickly and safely as possible.
But why — during a strong spring storm with heavy, wet snow and high winds — did IREA’s system sustain so few outages? Sure, some of it was luck. However, as the saying goes, “Fortune favors the prepared mind,” and IREA prepares for events like this year-round. Here are some of the things IREA does to keep you plugged in:
In 2014, we implemented a vegetation management program to minimize fire risk and outages. During the first six-year cycle we cleared trees and branches near all overhead distribution lines at least once within our 5,000-plus square-mile service territory. Now, more than one year into our next six-year cycle of this program, we have seen a reduction in the frequency and number of outages caused by vegetation contacting our overhead power lines.
IREA continually upgrades the system to harden it against Colorado’s adverse weather. IREA’s robust system improvement program is aimed at increasing reliability in the areas of IREA’s grid that need the most attention. Those projects directly contribute to IREA’s improved reliability and will continue to pay dividends for years to come. You can read more about IREA’s current and upcoming system improvement projects here.
System Maintenance and Repair
IREA performs inspections of most overhead distribution lines on a seven-year cycle. Main feeds and circuits within the areas of highest wildfire risk are inspected on a three-year cycle. Most inspections are conducted by personnel visually examining facilities, though IREA increasingly uses infrared cameras and drones for this work. Inspectors look for a variety of possible issues, including broken or loose hardware, mechanical damage to components and uninsulated secondary conductors. They also inspect the general condition of transformers, switches, conductors and other equipment and hardware that forms our system.
Most of our transmission lines, which carry power over longer distances, and transmission facilities are inspected on a three-year cycle. Higher-risk transmission facilities are inspected annually. Inspections typically are conducted via drone or helicopter and include video and/or photos of each structure; summaries of maintenance issues; and general reports regarding line segment condition, along with any recommendations for major maintenance or rebuild.
Pole Inspections and Maintenance
Our 5,000-plus miles of overhead lines are supported by more than 165,000 poles, almost all of which are wood. Wood poles less than 15 years old are inspected visually; all poles older than 15 years require both above- and below-ground inspections. They are prioritized, then reinforced, treated or replaced based on condition.
IREA continuously evaluates the design, equipment and construction standards of our system. We have updated those standards to both increase reliability in the system and “harden” it against wildfires. These refined standards include pole strength, so that poles can better withstand high wind and other weather conditions. We have increased spacing between conductors and shortened distances between poles to prevent different-phased lines from crossing. We have provided additional insulation of energized parts, so that birds and other animals cannot make contact and cause sparking. We have also eliminated specific types of wire and equipment connections that may be more prone to fail.
Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)
IREA recently completed installation of our AMI system that helps our cooperative better identify the locations and causes of outages so power can be restored faster than before. AMI has also significantly reduced the number of field visits required of our personnel.
IREA wants our members to know that we will continue our work to improve the reliability of the service we provide. As your electric cooperative, reliability is at the core of what we do for you.