Providing the best possible service to members is a priority at Horry Electric Cooperative, Inc. “From time-to-time, this means scheduling a power outage so crews can safely work on system upgrades and maintenance,” says Mitchell Benton, distribution engineer for the cooperative.
Maintenance is necessary to keep a steady flow of safe, reliable electric power running throughout the Horry Electric system. “System upgrades are necessary to keep ahead of the load demand of our members,” says Benton. Continuous and careful monitoring of the Horry Electric system helps engineers plan and predict, well in advance of any problems, when upgrades should be made.
Advance planning works to the advantage of Horry Electric’s members. “It helps us be proactive and not reactive,” says Benton. “If we waited until the system continually failed to upgrade equipment, we’d have frequent outages and some very unhappy members.”
Great care is taken when planning and scheduling an outage for maintenance and system upgrades. “Just like we do when restoring power after a major storm, we begin by upgrading the equipment at the substation,” says Benton. “Then we work our way out from there.”
A lot of the work and planning can be done with little or no impact to members. “But, then we get to a point in the project where we have to take a section of our system off line in order for the crews to safely and quickly replace or upgrade equipment.”
The duration of each individual planned and scheduled outage depends on the amount of equipment that has to be replaced or upgraded. Some are fairly easy and the work can be completed in as little as an hour. Others may require as much as five hours.
“We try hard to let affected members know when a planned outage is scheduled,” says Benton. “Notification is usually made by telephone directly to members who will be impacted by the planned outage.” Notification includes the date and time the work will be done; the location in which the work will be done; what kind of work is being done and the expected total length of time of the outage.
Having updated contact information in the system is critical to keeping members informed about electric service. “We are always asking members to verify we have the correct information for our outage reporting system,” says Benton. “It’s the same system we use to make outgoing calls to members to let them know about planned outages.”
Planned outage scheduled next month in the Longs area
Horry Electric has planned an outage in the Longs area for a project that will impact a total of 4,000 members and take about five days to complete. “It is scheduled for Tuesday, April 9 through Thursday, April 11 and then from Tuesday, April 16 through Wednesday, April 17,” says Benton. “We’ll be converting to a higher operating voltage in that part of our system from 7.2 kV to 14.4 kV.” The upgrade is necessary to be able to keep up with the energy demand from members.
Not all 4,000 members will be out every day of the time scheduled for the outage. “We’ve organized the job by line sections and will do one section one day and then another section the next day,” says Benton. “Members will be advised what days to expect to be affected and for how long.” In the case of this type of system upgrade, Horry Electric will caution members that outages could be as long as five hours.
Scheduling a planned outage can be challenging. “We know there isn’t ever going to be a convenient time for everyone, so we try to find a time that will be the least inconvenient,” says Benton. Planned outages are rarely scheduled on Mondays or Fridays. “We also try to avoid holidays; times of the year when traffic will be bad or the weather will be too severe for members to manage being without power for an extended period,” he says, adding that those considerations doesn’t leave a lot of options for the cooperative and its crews.
Notification by phone to the members in the Longs area will be made two weeks before the planned outage. A reminder phone call will be made the day before the work is scheduled to begin. “Because our records show we’re missing an awful lot of phone numbers in this particular area, we’re going to also do a notification by mail,” says Benton. “We had to make a lot of plans for the outage and we respect the fact our members will also need to make plans and work their personal and family schedules around the dates and times they’ll be without power.”
Notification to members about planned outages on the schedule is a priority for the cooperative and its employees do not take lightly. “An unexpected outage is one thing,” says Benton. “An outage planned in advance is another.” When notifying members of a planned outage that has been scheduled, the Cooperative always expresses appreciation in advance for the patience and understanding of its members who will be impacted. “We truly regret any inconvenience the interruption in service might cause, but we want them to be assured that it will greatly improve the quality of their electric service.”