For more than a decade, our board of directors outlined a capital plan to improve the reliability of our system. When our current CEO joined us, he took that plan to the next level, challenging the staff to strive for the first quartile of reliability (see article on previous page). The focus of that plan was to strategically replace overhead lines with underground cables and replace older underground cables that were failing. The plan focused on sections of the system that were prone to outages, impacted large numbers of members or were hard to repair. This plan worked well for many years, but required adjustment as our needs and technology changed.
Today, the reliability program has adjusted to focus on technology. Converting sections from overhead to underground is largely coming to an end, and the worst of the older underground cables have been replaced. There is still more to do in select areas, but not as much as in previous years. In addition, overhead conductors in some areas are now being replaced by plastic-coated wires, which prevents tree limbs from causing outages.
While the steps we have taken have been effective, the big gain in reliability and operating efficiencies will be technology. As we replace equipment that is at its end of life, the new equipment we install will have built-in computers, does not require maintenance and can communicate directly with our headquarters. This network of equipment will notify us of outages, locate problems, automatically switch around the problem if possible, notify our members and track the locations of our crews. The data from this network will help us run the system more effectively, respond to industry changes and better plan for the future.