The many aspects of power restoration
Article was added on Sunday, October 01, 2017
With hurricane season not officially ending until November 30
and the possibility of an ice storm lasting all winter, now is an
appropriate time to discuss how electric utilities respond to power
outages. I still like the occasions - even though they are rarer
now - when I get a chance to put on my old engineer's hat. I think
some explanation of the process will help ease minds when questions
are asked … "Do they know I'm out of power?" - and - "How long will
First, it's important to understand that small-scale, unexpected
outages are very different from ice storms and hurricanes. When an
animal (birds, snakes, and squirrels are particularly problematic
for power companies) works its way into our energized
infrastructure, restoration is normally as simple as clearing the
fault and re-fusing the tap or transformer. When a car hits one of
our poles, an entire circuit might be taken out, and a full
construction crew is normally needed to direct traffic and change
out the broken pole. These might sound different - and their
magnitudes are - but the response is the same. As soon as the
call is received, the lineman on call in that area responds and
assembles whatever additional team he needs (if any) to fix the
Pop-up evening thunderstorms, tornadoes, etc. are the outages
that will normally have a considerable number of linemen out
working all night. These events are severe enough to be more than
the on-call linemen can handle. We are normally required to
dispatch the majority of our linemen when these severe summer
storms take a swing at us.
The outages that cause the greatest concern, however, are major
storms - hurricanes and ice storms - that break poles, tear down
lines, and cause our members to be out of power for days.
The order of power restoration
First, there is the order of restoration. The first level,
transmission, is actually out of Santee Electric's hands. Quite
often when our system is hit hard by a major storm, so is theirs.
Once we have received transmission service to our substations, we
work on bringing the major feeders online. Think of our substation
as the heart and the feeders as the main arteries. Long before we
can respond to individual taps and services, these main circuits
have to be re-energized. Any broken poles or trees on these lines
must be dealt with first. Once the main lines and other 3-phase
circuits are re-energized, we turn to the taps. Taps are chosen
based on bringing the most people on the fastest. Taps with more
people and taps with less damage will be chosen first. Finally,
when all taps have been restored, we turn to individual services
that have been torn down. To answer that first question I listed at
the top of this column, yes - we do know you're out. We can
reach out electronically to every meter on our system to find out
which are without power. As restoration of each service is winding
down, this is how we make sure no one is missed.
Employee safety is also key
Santee Electric Cooperative also has to deal with the change in
work schedules. For simpler events, of course, everyone works all
night. During multi-day events, however, it is much more
efficient to have all of the linemen work the same 16-hour days.
Patrolling lines is 10-times faster and safer in the daylight than
at night. This also gives us the 8-hour period at night for the
engineers and dispatchers to plan the next day's work.
A concern I hear commonly is in regards to the amount and
timeliness of the help we receive from outside of our system. "You
knew there was a hurricane coming, so why didn't you have 500
linemen already on site to start working the very next morning?"
The answer is very simple. Every utility wants to send help, but no
utility will (1) put their men and equipment in harm's way before
the storm arrives or (2) send their men and equipment before they
know their own system is safe. That's why it always takes a day or
two (or more depending on conditions) before the full cavalry
We also have to deal with the question of whether more men and
equipment is always better. If 500 men took 10 days to restore all
power, then 5,000 should be able to do it in one day, right? I'm
afraid it doesn't work like that. There is a point where a system
can be saturated with linemen. Beyond this point, you have too many
people working with electricity in close proximity to each other.
Despite our overwhelming drive to restore power as fast as
possible, we never want to get into a situation where we put
linemen's lives in danger.
I hope this helps shed some light on the subject (Pun intended).
We appreciate all our members' kind words and patience during
outage situations, brief and extended. We encourage you to follow
us on social media during these events and we will try our best to
keep you informed. Stay safe out there.
Robert G. Ardis III
President and Chief Executive Officer
<< Back to the News and Press Listing