Manager’s Message — February 2022

A Stitch in Time

Ned Ratterman headshotLike most well-run organizations, electric utilities create contingencies in anticipation of major disruptions. One example in which backup plans are necessary is when handling large outages that may include multiple days of members without power.

No one wants to have outages, but they inevitably occur, and we must respond in an effective manner. Fortunately, disruptions are rare and our amazing line crews can quickly restore power.

Wasco Electric Cooperative members benefit from a 99.97% service availability index, but when you are out of power that can be hard to appreciate.

As many of you know firsthand, we had massive, prolonged outages in mid-December and early January, mainly in Wasco County. Trees, wind, and ice buildup on the lines were the main culprits.

We built our system to endure heavy storms, but there is a point at which building power lines capable of withstanding all storms becomes prohibitively expensive.

Technically, you could build a system to withstand a hurricane or blizzard with 50 mph gusts, but that would cost many times more than typical infrastructure and is unrealistic based on the cost versus benefit. This necessitates our being ready for storm and outage restoration. Planning and preparation are key to successful responses.

When large-scale outages happen, we experience many challenges, including safety concerns for employees and the public; a need for additional manpower; travel difficulties; equipment, including dealing with breakdowns; finding problems in difficult terrain and navigating in the dark; access to damaged equipment; office support; and battling fatigue.

My greatest concern is for the lineworkers who often work lengthy shifts and eventually operate off adrenaline. As a team, we need to make sure they are clear-headed and capable of working safely. When they let us know they need rest, they aren’t exaggerating.

This is why we have mutual aid agreements with neighboring utilities to call for help when our employees cannot respond to all of our members’ needs in a timely manner.

In December, four crews from other organizations helped our lineworkers. This was a difference-maker. Without prior planning, it would have been much more difficult and undoubtedly delayed repairs.

WEC put out the call for help and quickly found support. The help did not change the reality of our line crews working extended hours for many days, but the result was much better than if we had tried to do this work alone. That option would not have been acceptable to you or us.

By nature of owning electric lines, we understand we must repair and replace lines continuously. Think of driving a 1940 model car with no plan to upgrade or make repairs. That would not be prudent or even possible at some point. Poles rot, lines break and transformers wear out.

Part of our ongoing preparedness is selectively working on areas most in need of replacement. That mindset will never change, nor will our staff’s dedication to complete work in a fiscally responsible manner.

Ned Ratterman
General Manager