By Chris O’Neal
Manager of Vegetation Management
Last month we started a series of articles describing the four strategies we are working on to improve our system reliability 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030 without raising our members’ electrical rates.
This month’s article will focus on Strategy #2. 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.
South Central Indiana REMC owns and maintains 3,843 distribution miles, 2,448 of these miles are overhead power lines, of which 1,800 miles are primary lines. Every month, our vegetation team of 37 clears approximately 20 miles of overhead primary power lines, is in contact with around 200 members, and assesses, on average, 100 orders.
Thick vegetation makes it extremely difficult for our linemen responding to outages and needing to access the powerlines. It also can cause outages due to inside the ROW trees making contact with the powerlines. We initially focused on taking back these ROWs, dramatically reducing outages caused by our in ROW trees. Now, nearly all of our tree-related outages are caused by trees falling from well outside of the ROW or from tree limb re-growth encroaching from outside the ROW. This is now where our attention is directed.
We have achieved our initial goal of accelerating our primary line miles managed each year from 125 miles to over 200 miles—all done safer and at a lower cost per mile than ever before. We are optimizing efficiency by adding a second mechanical trimmer and other specialized equipment and technology and restructuring the department.
The Team is continuously watching reliability performance to ensure we are trimming in the right locations, and we have several innovative plans to meet our 2022 goal of over 250 miles. A more reliable system for everyone!
Our approaches for balancing cost and reliability
- Utilizing more specialized equipment in the field which includes: 2- Kershaw (Sky Trimmer), 3-Forestry Mulchers, 5-Elevator Bucket Trucks (75’ reach)
- Using accurate data tracking software
- Splitting up the operation into three units, spacing them out around our vast service territory, reducing response times to outages, and fuel costs.
- Closely monitoring data from system operations to target breaker reclosures due to trees or vegetation, allowing us to focus on more problematic areas.
- We are looking into adding another Kershaw in the coming years to increase production. It would help to do the job more safely. It takes the person or climber out of harm’s way by using specialized equipment.