Holy Cross Energy works to keep lines safe from wildfire
Inspections are on the ground and in the air
When the Sylvan Fire erupted, people from Holy Cross Energy were keeping a close eye on the progress of the blaze.
The fire has burned near an electric transmission line, which so far has remained undamaged. That line carries electricity for Xcel Energy, a large utility company.
Holy Cross, though, serves the majority of the valley, as well as Gunnison, Garfield and Pitkin counties. The utility has lines near the Sylvan Fire zone, and those lines are being closely watched.
But power lines, both above and below ground, are monitored almost constantly.
During a recent “Kilowatt Talks” presentation, Holy Cross Energy CEO Bryan Hannegan talked with vice president of Eagle/Vail operations Rick Arnhold and vice president of Glenwood operations Cody O’Neil about how the utility works to mitigate fire danger along transmission lines and elsewhere.
Arnhold said system maintenance starts with inspections. Holy Cross uses a combination of visual inspections, using thermal imaging and observation using airborne drones.
Arnhold said any time technicians are in the field, they look for moisture and cracks in equipment. They also look for arcing from lines. That can throw molten metal or hot embers to the ground, possibly setting fire to grasses below the lines.
Thermal imaging takes inspections farther. Using thermal scanners can show technicians where portions of the system are running hotter than normal. That can indicate potential problems.
The view from above, and below
O’Neil added that recent technology has improved drones’ ability to spot trouble areas. Drones allow technicians to see the tops of power poles, which can’t be done from the ground without “de-energizing” that pole.
The current goal is to inspect all 1,100 miles of Holy Cross’s overhead lines.
O’Neil said if the current drone project stays on track, the utility will be able to do roughly 2,500 power poles in about six weeks.
In addition to inspections, O’Neil said Holy Cross works to manage vegetation along its overhead lines. That means keeping trees at least 10 feet away from power lines. Holy Cross has also started a project to clear the base of poles from “fine fuels” such as grasses.
When something causes a system outage, Arnhold said the utility’s dispatch center calls out repair crews. Those crews often drop routine work to respond to an outage, Arnhold said. Repairs can take between a few minutes and a few hours to repair, Arnhold added.
While Holy Cross has a lot of overhead line, the utility has even more buried line – about 1,800 miles.
O’Neil said the danger in most areas is digging around green junction boxes found in neighborhoods.
State law requires people to call Colorado 811 for a line location before digging. Utilities have three business days to locate those lines and plant colored flags where the lines are.
While utilities focus on protecting lines from wildfire, O’Neil said residents need to prepare “go bags” with essentials from clothing to medications to pet food.
If the power goes out, Arnholt encouraged residents to have a flashlight handy. It’s also good to understand how to open garage doors without electricity before the power goes out.
If the power does go out, whether from a fire, blizzard or other cause, Hannegan recommended checking the Holy Cross website, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security.
For more information, go to HolyCross.com.