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Keeping the lights on in Los Alamos County has proven to be quite the undertaking. Numerous power outages have plagued the county over the past several months and despite the Department of Public Utilities’ efforts to fix the problem, the outages have continued.
Things, however, have changed a bit in the last three or so months. In October, the Department of Public Utilities hired Rafael De La Torre as the electrical engineering manager. An Española native, De La Torre previously worked for Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative and brings about 20 years of experience to his new position.
De La Torre is a 1983 graduate of Española Valley High School. He attended New Mexico State University where he obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering, with an emphasis on power. He completed the Electric Utilities Management Program and graduated in 1989. The next 16 years were spent as an assistant engineer and director of energy and operations for Jemez Mountains Electric Coop., where he was responsible for the entire electrical grid for the coop.
During his time with the coop, De La Torre decided to seek new opportunities. He went to work for a company called HITEC, where he served two years as a project manager and electrical engineer. After that, he worked for Ares Corporation, an architecture and engineering firm that provides architecture and engineering services to Los Alamos National Laboratory and other Department of Energy agencies. He spent a year with Ares before the opportunity to work for Los Alamos County was presented.
In his current position, De La Torre is responsible for the county’s electric distribution and ensures that the lights stay on all the time, as well as delivering safe and reliable service to DPU’s customers.
“Two-thirds of my time has been spent working on overcurrent protection of our system,” De La Torre said. “I knew what I was up against,” he said of taking the position with the county. “All efforts have been to ensure when problems happen, the least amount of customers will see it.”
De La Torre said that one of the major problems the DPU sees is squirrels. The pesky critters get on the power lines, which results in electrocution for them, not to mention power outages for DPU customers. “We are insulating the wires so that when squirrels get on, the power doesn’t go out,” he said. However, squirrels aren’t the only problem. De La Torre said that his staff is also working on updating the design and construction standards so they can hook up new customers. “It’ll be a more effective solution compared to some of the designs we have now,” he commented. He terms the live front equipment the DPU has now as 1980s-type designs.
De La Torre said that he has also identified other design standards that he can improve upon. “Los Alamos is very rural. We have quite a bit of underground lines, some of which are 30 years old.” He said that some of the lines are reaching their replacement cycle. “There’s quite a bit of infrastructure that needs to be replaced,” he continued.
De La Torre has an understanding of what it will take to fix the county’s utility problems and says that he’s up for the challenge. “I have a good picture as to where the county is in terms of the electrical grid,” he said. “As I was interviewing (for his current position), my mind came up with solutions I could implement. I took it as a personal challenge to come in and be part of a team and to provide reliable, effective service to customers.” He takes pride in the fact that there have been no major power outages while he’s been on the job.
When De La Torre isn’t fixing the county’s electrical problems or thinking of ways to make the system better, he spends time watching his son and daughter play basketball. Rafael III, 12, and Alyssa, 15, both play for their school’s teams in Pojoaque. He also enjoys spending as much time as he can with his wife, Nanette and other daughter, Aryanna, 5, who De La Torre calls “daddy’s little girl.” When he’s not spending time with his family, he likes to go fishing.
He also enjoys the folks that he works with at DPU and said that it’s nice to work in an environment where people are always smiling. He also expressed gratitude for having a public relations department. “Having to wear that hat can be challenging,” he said. “Allison (Majure), Julie (Williams-Hill) and myself have been working in great detail. Whenever we have issues, I can explain it to them and they’ll work with the public to update them,” he said.