NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The value of reliable, resilient power continues to rise as more transportation goes electric and work-from-home arrangements become more common, a panel of experts said Monday at PowerXchange.

“No longer are traditional metrics of the number and length of outages enough,” said Venkat Banunarayanan, NRECA’s vice president of integrated business and technology strategies. “It’s the quality of life and people’s lifestyles that are being affected when the power goes out.”

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of reliable electricity as people stayed home more and noticed every tiny “blink” in service, especially when their internet connections were affected, co-op leaders said.

“A blink is an outage; it’s just a short outage,” said Donnie Clary, CEO of CoServ Electric in Corinth, Texas, at a breakout session on reliability. “We send our power quality folks out to find the problem. We investigate every blink.”

CoServ began a drone inspection program last year that has helped the co-op avoid about 300 circuit outages by spotting problems that are difficult to see from the ground, Clary said.

To improve the reliability of its system, Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative on the south coast of Oregon has two full-time employees patrolling every circuit mile of property to look for trees in danger of falling into power lines and causing fires. Oregon has been devastated by massive wildfires in recent years.

Nearly half of the state’s power outages last year were caused by vegetation, said Brent Bischoff, the co-op’s CEO and general manager.

Bruce Maurhoff, chief operating officer at Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, said his co-op is also “fighting the tree battle as part of reliability.” CVEC has identified and removed about 24,000 trees that were threatening power lines during the past five years, he said.

The co-op has created an incentive program based on reduced outages, shorter outage lengths and the number of customers impacted. To help reduce outage length, co-op crews installed fault indicators on the system that allow them to troubleshoot problems more quickly.

“Our employees get pretty engaged in trying to improve reliability,” he said. “We still have some things to do, but I think we’re on the right path.”

Co-op members have little tolerance for outages, Clary said. “To some extent, we’re a victim of our own success,” he said. “We’ve all done such a good job of keeping the lights on that when we highlight it, people just say, ‘isn’t that your job?’”

Maurhoff said his co-op’s consumer-members recognize the improvements they’ve made.

“They see the difference in reliability,” he said. “But they also tell us, ‘whatever you do, make sure the broadband doesn’t go out.’”

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