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T&D Reliability: The Next Battleground in Re-Regulation

Fortnightly Magazine - March 1 1999

storm adjustment. In some cases, PUCS have set standards and have threatened penalties for failure to meet the standard for system average performance.

2. Public events. Regulators and politicians alike are anxious to stay on top of what they know to be one of the most public aspects of reliability (em storm restoration. For reporting purposes, the focus centers on the prudence and adequacy of a utility's service restoration efforts, i.e., the duration rather than the frequency. Regulators may require hourly status reports and ask for an account of the efforts after the fact. The prudent utility will prepare itself for scrutiny after a major storm.

The typical utility is not staffed to handle a major storm with internal resources. After diverting most of its construction crews to service restoration, it must call in its own non-construction personnel, outside contractors and other utilities. In fact, one utility that had done some downsizing in an area later hit by a major storm responded to bargaining unit criticism of its storm restoration performance by showing that, while the downsizing may have reduced its available force in the area by about 10 percent, the resources it tapped to handle the crisis were more on the order of 10 times the local force, even before the downsizing.

The utility will be judged on how well it had planned and arranged in advance to get extra resources. Many companies are enhancing their storm-watching ability, using not just the local weather service radar but also the National Lightning Detection Network to track the position and severity of oncoming storms. Dispatchers agonize over when to pull the trigger to mobilize massive resources in advance of a storm, and there are some examples of expensive false starts as storms changed direction and hit other areas. Sometimes the difference of a few degrees can determine whether an area sees harmless rain or a disastrous ice storm that loads up lines, poles and tree limbs with weight far in excess of even a conservative design criterion. The newspaper photo of a row of steel lattice transmission towers twisted like pretzels from last winter's Canadian ice storm comes to mind.

Regulators also will look for investments in automation. Call centers need to be able to handle many times their normal traffic, either through use of interactive voice response units or through outsourcing the overflow. Dispatchers must be able to diagnose properly the source of outages and the optimal way to restore service, while ensuring that restoring first the largest blocks of customers does not leave some isolated customers without service for too long. The utility that says it did not have enough resources to prevent harm to customers will not be heard. If help may be needed, the key is to recognize it soon and get it on its way.

3. Worst circuits. This area stands as the most predominant feature of the new reliability regulations. System averages can mask terrible service to small groups of customers. Utilities themselves long have recognized the value of outage frequency and duration data by circuit to