Lamar Electric reported that temperatures in some of their service area was as low as 5 degrees at ground level, which is a 20 year record and is the underlying cause for about 700 people being out of power in the North West part of Lamar County. The areas affected were Sumner, Hopewell, Emberson, Unity, Direct, Forest Chapel, Belk, Georgia and Maxey.
Lamar Electric General Manager, Jerry Williams said “Normal cold weather is anticipated and the electric system is constructed to handle very cold and very hot weather.” He said “The weather the last two days revealed an area that was able to increase their load well above normal in a very short time and exceeded the settings on the main Feeder Breaker at the substation, near Brookston.” “The very cold weather created a situation where, simultaneously residential customers turned on more appliances (like space heaters and ovens used to heat houses) than had ever been turned on in an area that has experienced growth in residential and commercial load.” “In a normal situation, if load or a short caused a circuit to have more amperage than expected, the OCB (Oil Circuit Breaker) would open and isolate the area so appropriate repairs or system upgrades could be done.” “In this case the oil in the breakers on the main lines was so cold the breakers could not operate; which caused the Gas Operated Breaker (SF6 Gas) at the substation to open.” The severe cold weather is forecasted to move out of Lamar County in the next day or so and Williams said he did not expect there to be any problems later in the week.
Williams reported that Lamar has been monitoring this part of their system and are in the middle of implementing plans to expand the ability to serve more load in this area. They report that bids have already been received for a second substation transformer that will be installed at the Brookston substation, which will allow the feeders going north to be broken down into more circuits with breakers serving less load downstream of each breaker.
An arctic cold front is in the forecast for our service area this evening. The chances of freezing rain, sleet and snow have increased over the past few days. We are monitoring the weather and are ready for whatever Mother Nature throws our way.
Our crews are aware of the expectation of the winter weather and are prepared to begin battling outages if necessary. Pictured here is our General Manager, Jerry Williams, meeting with employees to discuss a plan of action should weather become imminent.
In order to provide better service we have hired a contractor to inspect and re-treat our wood poles. The contractor will be working around most of the poles in northwest Lamar County, west of US 271.
Customers may see the contractors going from pole to pole in their pasture or back yard. The contractor’s trucks will have an Osmose logo on each door, the Osmose employees will be wearing brightly colored vests and hard hats with the Osmose name and may be on 4-wheelers or a side-by-side.
Osmose has been performing pole inspections for Lamar Electric for the past several years. Every pole at least ten years old will be treated. Crews will dig around the base of all the older poles to determine if there is decay under or near the ground line.
In addition, all poles will be inspected for damage above ground, such as woodpecker damage. Once it is determined that the pole is in good condition, a preservative treatment paste will be applied to help preserve the pole for many years, and the dirt filled back around the pole. “If they discover bad poles during this inspection process, Lamar Electric will be replacing the poles,” said Jerry Williams Lamar Electric manager “Scheduling of the replacement poles will depend on the severity of pole damage. Inspection of poles is a critical action that allows for safer operations as well as reduced cost, allowing Lamar Electric to better manage the factors that determine pole performance and strength. Identifying bad or weak poles in advance of failure allows for optimum conditions for replacement or repair and improves system reliability.”
Lamar Electric has been purchasing power through another cooperative for a little over 30 years. Recently Lamar reached an agreement that will allow Lamar to secure wholesale power from the ERCOT market. Prior to 2000, every utility in Texas either generated their own power or negotiated to buy power from a generating company. Most rural electric cooperatives banded together with other cooperatives to build or buy electric generating plants or used the combined load to secure a better negotiated purchase of power. In 2000 the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) was formed and now all electric generators sell their power to ERCOT. Entities that serve electric loads in Texas then purchase power based on the ERCOT electric market. Cooperatives that own generating assets, similar to our prior supplier, can use those assets to hedge against market fluctuations, since they are both selling and buying power and can match the buying price to the selling price they can, therefore secure power at the actual production cost. This has been a common practice to give some price stability over a long term.
This change in how wholesale power is purchased will allow Lamar Electric to take advantage of some of the currently lower priced wind and solar power and maintain retail rates much closer to unregulated retail energy providers.” However, I would cautioned that; This change will result in lower retail rates at this time, but the trade-off will be rates that fluctuate more as the ERCOT electric market fluctuates. Due to the continuing low price for natural gas and extensive increase in wind power, most projections indicate the market price for electricity in Texas will remain low for the next several years. Federal government tax credits for wind and solar are scheduled to phase out over the next few years, but congress has extended the deadline every time for the past 15 years. Even with the possibility of phasing out the tax credits for wind and solar, investment in these technologies continues to increase.
This reduction is estimated to be about 2 cents per kilowatt hour. This reduction should start appearing on customer’s bills with the first billing cycle in January.” A part of the Lamar Electric rate is a power cost recovery factor which allows changes in the wholesale power cost to be passed directly to the end customer. Office Manager, Betty Wood, said according to her calculations “this is a reduction of approximately $4 million a year when all Lamar Electric bills are added up.” Katie Morris, our Director of Communications for Lamar Electric, points out “the average residence using about 1000 kilowatt hours a month will see a reduction of about $20 per month.” The effect will be even greater for commercial accounts and those using more electricity.
The Farmer’s Almanac is calling for colder than normal temperatures for southern states during the 2017-2018 winter season. Cold temperatures do not cause outages. However, the Farmer’s Almanac also forecasts that precipitation will be at above-normal levels throughout the country. This is where we begin to start thinking about potential outages.
Freezing rain is the most concerning type of winter precipitation for us at Lamar Electric. Freezing rain is snow that has melted on its way down to the ground and refreezes once it hits the ground, a tree limb or electric wire, causing an unwelcomed layer of ice. Once ice accumulates on our lines it can increase the weight of the line by 30 times, according to The Weather Channel. A half inch accumulation on power lines can add 500 pounds of extra weight. Subsequently, the added weight can cause tree branches, power lines and utility poles to fall. Remember that the added weight doesn’t go away once the above-mentioned items fall to the ground. Our linemen must remove the broken wires, poles, trees that have fallen on the lines, etc., and replace the broken equipment, which takes a significant about of time and man power. Making repairs in freezing rain doesn’t speed things up either! We have contractors that we call if we have widespread outages. In severe cases we even call in other cooperatives to help us restore power quickly.
Needless to say, the weight of the ice causes the wires to sag. Sagging wires in a span can be snagged by a truck driving underneath, pulling down the poles at the ends of the span. This can cause a domino effect in which one pole snaps and forcefully pulls on the wires, causing the next pole in line to snap, which can initiate a long line of poles being snapped. As the ice begins to melt and fall off the sagging wires, they can spring back up and may be damaged as they hit overhanging branches or other wires. This occurrence is called sleet jumping.
Speaking of sleet, you may be keeping an eye on the news and looking out for any menacing winter storm words. Please note that freezing rain and sleet are two different things. Sleet is a snowflake that has melted partially and refrozen before it hits the ground. Freezing rain is a snowflake that has melted completely and freezes after hitting the ground or another object. While accumulations of sleet can make roads treacherous, sleet does not accumulate on powerlines, so ice events with more sleet than freezing rain pose a greatly reduced threat for power outages.
Stay prepared this coming winter season. Winter storms could strike at any time. The following items are a few key items that you may need should a winter storm hit and you find yourself without power:
Battery Powered Radio with extra batteries so you can hear the latest local weather updates
A couple of oil lamps with extra odorless oil for light
Portable cellphone charger to communicate with friends and family and to use in case of emergencies
Dry firewood for your fireplace or wood burning stove, should you have one
Smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector that operate on a battery
Battery powered flash lights
Blankets and sleeping bags
Canned/no-cook food (ex: bread, crackers, nuts)
Manual can opener
First aid kit
These are just a few suggested items. To find a full list of suggested winter preparedness items, please visit the website for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/disasters/ and visit the Winter Weather tab.
We are constantly on the lookout for major storms that may affect our service area. We do our best to remain prepared for any storm that could head our way. We encourage you to also stay prepared and be patient with us should your lights go out during a storm. Our linemen work hard in harsh weather conditions to restore your power as quickly and safely as possible. Winter is coming and we will be prepared; will you be prepared?