Proactive. Prepared. Engaged.
The allure of Colorado's dense national forests and mountainous terrain also makes it susceptible to factors that increase the risk of wildfires. As your cooperative, United Power takes these growing threats seriously and has continuously engaged in progressive, proactive risk mitigation efforts to prevent the ignition and growth of wildfires due to its infrastructure, particularly within our Mountain Territory. Portions of Gilpin, Boulder, and Jefferson Counties reside within this part of our territory and include heavily forested parts of Golden Gate State Park and parts of both the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests.
United Power has a formal Wildfire Mitigation Policy and Plan in place to protect United Power’s infrastructure and reduce the risk of fire ignitions. The plan is continuously evaluated to address the environmental, political, financial, and other factors that influence those risks. Our primary objective is safety; to protect lives and property by reducing the risk of a utility-involved wildfire.
Three Main Components
One of the principle fire risks is vegetation. United Power proactively clears right-of-ways and the areas around them of vegetation before it is able to create a fire hazard for our members. The cooperative contracts a number of crews to maintain the distance between mountain vegetation and our lines, including the removal of dead "Beetle Kill" trees that are at increased risk of falling into nearby lines. In more heavily forested areas, the co-op has expanded overhead facilities requirements.
System upgrades and improvements over time have made it more possible for utilities to defend against the threat of wildfires and mitigate hazards. United Power has proactively researched the viability of the latest industry upgrades and has either begun implementing them into its everyday system maintenance or plans to do so in the immediate future. New devices being deployed can better detect potential faults, redirect and control currents and reroute power in the event of an outage.
Carefully monitoring current conditions and assessing risk is a constant process and occurs from the field and from the office. Special field equipment has been deployed that allows System Operations to monitor and respond efficiently to variable weather and fire threat conditions from a remote location. Field crews are briefed on current weather and fire conditions, and are also equipped with fire suppression gear so they are prepared and can respond quickly in an emergency.
Wildfire Mitigation Programs & Initiatives
Current Co-op Practices
United Power engages in a number of principle practices to ensure its system is well maintained and ready to deliver power to its members. This includes regular system inspections, from poles to substations, and proactively scheduling repairs when possible and where necessary.
Pole Testing – United Power plans pole inspections on a rotating 10-year schedule.
Substation Inspections – Technicians conduct monthly inspections of more than 30 United Power substations to identify and correct potential problems.
Feeder Inspections – When the cooperative is using drones to inspect other parts of its system, linemen continue to patrol feeders to identify necessary repairs.
Red Flag Warnings - When a Red Flag Warning is issued in United Power's service area, the cooperative will adjust system settings and operation procedures to stop the flow of power if an interference is detected. Learn more here.
Programs are in place at United Power to ensure reliable distribution of power to our members. While outages are sometimes unavoidable, the cooperative is proactively monitoring and maintaining it system to make them few in number, short in duration and, where possible, predictable.
Drone Inspections– Cost-effective and efficient, drones are able to inspect poles and wire quickly from a variety of angles and spot necessary repairs before they become a problem.
Distribution Management – United Power is one of the leading utilities in the automation of field devices. Our distribution management system allows us to isolate problems remotely and restore power quickly, minimizing the number of members affected.
Smart Devices – A branch of our distribution management system, smart devices allows equipment to communicate with our dispatch immediately upon detecting a problem.
Vegetation Management – United Power contracts multiple full-time crews to proactively monitor and clear vegetation near its lines, including the removal of "Beetle Kill" trees that pose an increased risk of falling into power lines. Over the past 7 years, the co-op has achieved a 90% success rate.
United Power is constantly surveying the utility landscape and implementing new system maintenance standards and practices in its day-to-day. These standards aim to improve the overall functionality of the system while providing our linemen with additional tools to identify areas of concern before they become problems, keep them safe and mitigate potential hazards.
Comprehensive Inspection Standards – New, more rigorous inspection protocol requires linemen to investigate all faults to ensure they don't become larger system faults. Linemen are charged with finding the cause of an outage, even when the issue may resolve itself.
New Construction Standards – When the terrain allows, all new construction is being placed underground. Parts of the system rebuilt with fire mitigation in mind were also placed underground, when possible.
Hendrix Cable – The cooperative is strategically replacing existing overhead line with insulated (covered) conductor, providing a level of protection when contact is made (i.e. a tree in the line) that greatly mitigates fire potential.
Infrared Cameras – All linemen are being outfitted with new infrared cameras to use when inspecting lines and equipment to identify hot spots before a failure occurs.
System Improvement Standards – The use of wider fiberglass "puppy" arms are more heat resistant than wood arms, while the added length provides security from wires slapping together in heavy wind or animals making contact with different phases.
New Program Initiatives
Beyond continuing programs that mitigate wildfire risks and protect our members, United Power continues to evaluate potential new programs to move us forward. New program initiatives may add new and emerging technology to our existing infrastructure, replace a component of our infrastructure entirely or aid in monitoring areas of our system. The cooperative continues to be an early adopter of beneficial programs, setting an example for others to follow.
High-Impedance Fault (HIF) Detection – United Power will be retrofitting substations in the mountain territory to support the implementation of HIF protection. This system will help detect and clear low-current faults that could result in a fire.
Current Limiting Fuses & Trip Savers – Traditional fuses can release a shower of hot particles when they drop open. United Power will be replacing the bulk of these fuses in our mountain territory with a combination of current-limiting fuses and new single phase electronic reclosers to both protect the system and mitigate the potential for fires.
Linemen Risk Awareness Training – United Power linemen will be trained to recognize potential fire hazards and make appropriate preparations beforehand, as well as personal safety steps to take in a wildfire emergency. Linemen may be equipped with fire suppression gear, but they ARE NOT trained to fight fires.
Are You Prepared?
Wildfire prevention is a team effort, including the help from our members. Changing weather makes year-round wildfire safety a necessity, and there are plenty of things our members can do to prepare themselves, their homes and their property should a wildfire or wildfire risk occur. Keeping your yards clear of dead, dying and loose vegetation goes a long way in securing your yard. More resources are available to United Power and other local, state and national entities.