Washington state public power utility Clark Public Utilities has developed an impressive track record when it comes to reliability and keeping power outages to a minimum.
“I think there’s really a commitment from the top down within the whole utility to keep service interruptions at a minimum and, when they do happen, to get them fixed as quickly as possible,” said Ryan Kerr, Manager of Systems Engineering and Planning at Clark Public Utilities, in an Aug. 14 interview with the American Public Power Association.
More specifically, Kerr noted that there is a “big commitment” from Clark Public Utilities when it comes to proactive vegetation management, which is done on a three-year cycle. In addition, the utility also utilizes tree wire in spots where tree trimming is difficult.
Kerr also highlighted the utility’s infrastructure monitoring and service crew protocols as substantial drivers behind the short response times. “I think the fact that we have a 24-hour dispatch center, and servicemen out there on patrol all the time who are ready at a moment’s notice when the dispatchers report an incident,” helps with power restoration efforts.
Dameon Pesanti, Media Specialist at Clark Public Utilities, emphasized the point that the utility has “built a culture of the customer’s interest above all else. We’re owned by them so we want to provide them the best service.”
Starting with the CEO of Clark Public Utilities, “down to our part-time employees,” the focus on reliability is front and center across the utility, Pesanti said. When power outages occur, “everybody jumps on it to get the lights back on and keep customers informed.”
Clark Public Utilities recognized by APPA
Earlier this year, Clark Public Utilities received a “Diamond” level designation from APPA under APPA’s Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3) program. The Diamond level is the highest level of RP3 recognition.
The program recognizes utilities that demonstrate high proficiency in reliability, safety, workforce development, and system improvement. Utilities keep the RP3 designation for three years.
“Reliability and safety are the priority in all areas of operation in this utility,” Lena Wittler, CEO/General Manager of Clark Public Utilities, said in April. “The RP3 review thoroughly examines the practices and measures implemented across the organization to support those priorities. The fact that we’ve earned the highest level of recognition, with a rarely achieved perfect score, is a reflection of our ongoing commitment to delivering outstanding service, consistently and professionally.”
“I’m always excited to see exceptional reliability at public power utilities,” said Alex Hofmann, Vice President, Engineering Services, at APPA. “Keeping the lights on represents a huge value to the commercial, industrial, and residential customers serviced by Clark PUD.”
A recent article in the Battle Ground, Washington-based newspaper The Reflector notes that the average number of power outages a customer experienced in 2018 was 1.65. For Clark Public Utilities customers the average was 0.43, the newspaper reported.
In his interview with APPA, Kerr said that in 2016, the public power utility started to focus on Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) indices “and bringing those to the table.”
Clark Public Utilities for a long time has had an internal goal program with set metrics for reliability, cost-control and customer satisfaction. The reliability goal uses measures similar to the System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) with average time a utility customer is out of power during a specified timeframe, and employees watch the progress against the goal as a measure of success.
Kerr noted that one of the tools that Clark Public Utilities utilizes to minimize outages is remote device control. This helps in situations such that when there is an outage, “dispatch can participate in the switching order along with the servicemen out in the field, so it helps our restoration time and adds to the number of eyes on the system.”
Washington has the second-highest risk in the U.S. of large and damaging earthquakes because of its geologic setting, according to the Washington Geological Survey. Kerr noted that when it comes to substations, Clark Public Utilities takes a long-term approach in terms of things like seismic upgrades and “installing a lot of flexible connections between devices.” Clark Public Utilities has also taken steps to tie down its power transformers.
“We think we’ll be able to get through our system in the next five years or so. We’re not trying to get so it’s going to be a hundred percent ride through, but anything we can do ahead of time to provide for a better restoration time following a seismic event is what the utility is aiming for,” Kerr said.
With respect to specific projects, he noted that Clark Public Utilities is working to replace its oldest substation near Washington’s border with Oregon along the Columbia River.
Along with the substation’s age (constructed in 1964), Kerr noted that another factor driving this project is a new $1.5 billion waterfront development project, so “we need a little extra capacity out of there.” The project is in downtown Vancouver, Washington.
The substation project, which is tied into two transmission lines, will help boost reliability by compensating for times when one of the lines experiences an outage. “In the past, it wasn’t really set up that way. We’ll have some duel redundancy” into the future for a large chunk of customers in the downtown Vancouver area, he said.