Headaches in Calif. show importance of local policy

Saturday, October 12, 2019

A California utility has taken more than a little heat this week for its decision to cut off power to large numbers of customers. It was a preemptive strike, they said, against the danger of wildfires from broken power lines as high winds and dry weather created an increased risk.

While we’re sure no one faults them from wanting to prevent additional danger, officials in that state have called into question Pacific Gas and Electric’s management of their system.

Among the concerns being raised is the management of vegetation along the power lines.

It’s something to think about the next time tree trimming is brought up by our own utility companies.

Municipal Utilities and Ozark Border have both spoken on the importance of clearing the area around power lines, and it can be an admittedly touchy subject. Few homeowners want to see a beloved oak or maple tree cut back or removed because of a possible threat to the power grid.

But it is something Municipal Utilities has been diligent about, and our utility has racked up about a dozen awards over the years for its reliability.

The utility received the Charlie Burgett Electric Reliability Award again this year, which recognizes outstanding achievement by cities with a population of more than 10,000.

The Poplar Bluff utility experienced an average system availability index of 99.99% in 2018.

The ability of Municipal Utilities to handle most power outages in under an hour, on average, is part of what is judged when making the award.

The award comes from the Municipal Electric Systems of Oklahoma. MESO represents cities in Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas.

Tree trimming maintains an important 15-foot right of way, General Manager Bill Bach said at the time, also discussing the importance of investing in technology upgrades that allow workers to locate problems faster.

Municipal Utilities is able to track many problems from its headquarters, including pinpointing downed lines, and send crews directly to the troubled area.

While Poplar Bluff workers no longer have to drive the lines to locate faults, Pacific Gas and Electric has said it will use a fleet of helicopters and more than 6,000 technicians to inspect the lines before they are brought back on, a process that could take up to five days.

Something MESO has also highlighted when handing out the Burgett award is the importance of local control.

“Local control means local crews. That means fast response. And fast response means less outage time,” MESO General Manager Tom Rider said in 2017, after handing out the same award to Poplar Bluff.

As Pacific customers in California continue to wait for the lights to come back on, we would have to agree.

— Daily American Republic

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