Updating the Grid
Hoosier Energy assets are reviewed for replacement to improve performance, reliability
Whether adjusting for the pandemic or planning for the future, Hoosier Energy is responsibly executing its capital plans to maintain, repair and upgrade assets to ensure the resiliency of Hoosier Energy’s transmission system.
“We’re targeting assets that are in the higher-risk category for failure because of their age and condition. That should translate to better asset performance, improved reliability and fewer outages,” said Matt Mabrey, Vice President of Operations. “This should give our members a lot of confidence that we’re utilizing financial resources wisely.”
Hoosier Energy’s estimated capital work plan over the next five years totals $248 million, compared to the previous five-year work plan of $228 million. The current estimates incorporate a significant transition compared to the previous plan, according to Vice President of Technical Services Will Kaufman, who explained that $225 million will address transmission-related projects and span from line rebuilds and pole replacements, to communication systems and relay upgrades.
“About $165 million will directly address aging infrastructure, including expansion of communication systems, modernize existing assets and build a resilient grid,” Kaufman said.
He added that about $47 million would be directed toward projects that support load growth, including investments in new or expanded substations and lines. New equipment to replace bucket trucks and delivery service vehicles is expected to total about $12 million.
“Our current transmission assets were constructed in the ’50s and ’60s, up through the 1970s, so when we talk about energy infrastructure, we’re approaching the end of useful life of a lot of our assets,” Kaufman explained, adding that line segments are being prioritized based on maintaining system reliability, while managing capital investments necessary to modernize our transmission system. “We’re really looking at the aging infrastructure program from those two angles and making sure that we meet members’ reliability expectations.”
The new five-year plan includes more than 250 different projects across transmission, distribution, communication and network systems.
“Forecasting is as much of an art as it is a science,” Kaufman said. “Our design teams are staying up to speed on technology advancement and where the industry is taking us in regard to communications and distributed energy resources. We must ensure we are balancing the needs of today with building a system that can accommodate industry changes on the horizon.”
Completing work during the pandemic
Looking forward to the work ahead, Mabrey commended crews for being able to complete major projects in the middle of a pandemic. Those projects include erecting a new substation in Harrison REMC territory near the 1 MW solar array visible from I-64, and completing the Troy solar interconnection by expanding the 161 kV side of the substation and associated line work in Southern Indiana Power territory.
The work schedules fluctuated in mid-March when Hoosier Energy’s pandemic response team tackled how to schedule the workforce, so employees were protected from the coronavirus, but still operate and maintain transmission systems.
By March 23, half the transmission operations crews were working at home on standby, while the other half reported to their respective crew sites. Schedules then alternated every two weeks until May 11th, when most transmission personnel returned to their crew sites.
Transmission operations managers Bobby Hill and Brady Mann monitored preventative and corrective maintenance work and determined that preventative maintenance work was behind due to having half crews work for a couple months.
Mabrey said he, Hill and Mann asked Technical Services Engineering to assist in prioritizing the remaining work for the balance of the year, so the work provided the highest value and degree of reliability. The analysis was delivered in just three weeks and provided a high-impact list with three codes – vital planned, essential planned and routine planned – which was used to schedule work for the remainder of the year.
At the end of the year, the results in each representative group, which inclusively has about four to five different types of work orders, saw Communications, Meter-Relay and Delivery Services collectively complete 95 percent of scheduled work, while Vegetation Management achieved 100 percent completion. Mabrey said that the stores department also did an outstanding job managing materials and equipment during the year, which allowed field crews to be successful.
“Success of the completion rates is attributed to excellent work planning, crew skills, attitude and determination to complete the scheduled work,” said Mabrey, adding that these results are in addition to multitudes of projects that were completed concurrently with the preventative maintenance work.
“Our crews actually do a lot of the construction, and they do it very efficiently and competitively. We do it very expeditiously and with great quality,” Mabrey said. “The guys enjoy getting a mix of new construction, whether it’s transmission lines or substations, new SCADA equipment, new switches, or meter/relay upgrades. This type of work brings a lot of satisfaction to the crew members.”
He added, “We had a really successful year in the way we accomplished our work during the pandemic.”