Wildfires have devastated parts of Colorado this year, with several blazing across the state in August. Near Grand Junction, the Pine Gulch Fire is the largest on record for the state and another near Glenwood Springs had threatened to join the list. Near Fort Collins, a third fire has even threatened parts of Poudre Valley REA’s electrical infrastructure. Although not attributed to any utility electrical system, these fires demonstrate the importance of having a developed fire mitigation plan in place for utilities like United Power, who reviews and updates its plan annually.
As your cooperative, United Power takes these growing threats seriously. Leadership at the cooperative has continuously embraced a proactive and progressive approach to wildfire prevention. United Power’s goal is the safety of its members and the protection of the communities they live in.
United Power made preparations to enhance its existing fire mitigation plan in early 2013 with a change in facility design and placement, making them more accessible and clear of potential hazards. The implementation also included an expansive vegetation management policy to keep infrastructure clear of hazards that could be easily ignited in the event of a system failure (such as a fault or equipment malfunction leading to an outage).
“As we reviewed our system design, we began to recognize the opportunity for better design methodology and the use of advanced technology to prepare for the unexpected,” said acting chief executive officer Bryant Robbins. “One of the things we heavily targeted was the prevention of wildfire risk on our system.”
Members in Coal Creek Canyon, and those driving through, may have noticed crews installing new line in parts of the canyon. This new line is an insulated conductor known as Hendrix cable, which provides a high level of protection when contact is made, such as a tree falling into the line. The strength of the line along with the covered protection goes a long way in preventing fires caused by electrical equipment in the mountain service territory. The new line has been one of the more high profile and visible elements of the cooperative’s fire mitigation plan, but the team at United Power went much further in developing system improvements to mitigate the wildfire risk to members.
Always looking for an opportunity to develop a better system, United Power became an early adopter of drone maintenance inspections and an industry leader in both system automation and the deployment of smart devices.
“These technologies are among the most innovative forms of outage management currently available to utilities,” said Engineering Director Robert Maxwell. “Their design also allows them to stop the flow of electricity to faults that could develop into fires without this technology. We’re far ahead of the curve in utilizing the latest technology when compared not just to other cooperatives but also larger electric utilities.”
Drones are able to quickly survey miles of line in a rapid period of time, freeing line crews to focus on preventable outages, which has been especially useful in the mountains where the terrain can often make pole inspections time consuming and difficult. The number of man hours saved and outages prevented from this innovative inspection format is incalculable.
Automated field devices further allow the system to identify and isolate problems to restore power quickly while minimizing the number of members affected and smart devices are able to immediately report problems back to the cooperative’s system operations. These improvements, along with the installation of advanced trip savers and fault detectors, help improve outage response and mitigate the potential for fires.
Although the current pandemic has interfered with many facets of our daily lives, United Power has continued to make progress implementing new technology onto its system to further mitigate the threat of wildfires. As the past month has shown throughout the state, a strategic fire mitigation plan is essential in Colorado.
“Wildfire preparedness is a priority for United Power, and we’ve been able to blend our efforts to mitigate fire dangers with our efforts to prevent outages,” said Robbins. “As our numbers continue to improve, we’ll also continue looking for the best opportunities to better serve our members, both safely and affordably.”
For more information about United Power’s fire mitigation improvements, go to Fire Mitigation.