Utilities works to ensure better power flow

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By Jennifer Garcia

Keeping the lights on for Los Alamos County residents is the top priority for the Department of Public Utilities. But it hasn’t always been easy.

Currently, Electrical Engineering Manager Rafael De La Torre and his staff are replacing the system’s fuses. This process will cut down on the number of outages that DPU customers experience.

In addition, the transformers are being insulated so that if an animal, such as a squirrel, gets on top of the transformer, it won’t cause a power outage De La Torre said that he hopes to have the project completed by the end of June.

“Most of our efforts have been on circuit 16, which is in the Barranca Mesa area,” De La Torre said. “We’ve recently purchased all the material to work on circuits 13 and 15, which is basically referred to as the western area, which is the older part of town, west of the LA Medical Center.”

De La Torre said his staff is replacing the fuses and the fuse holder, which is also referred to as a cutout.

“As we’re replacing the fuses, if we determine the fuse holder needs to be replaced, we do that as well,” he said.

Power outages associated with this work have been minimal, as 80 percent of the time crews are able to do the replacement while the lines are energized.

“In some instances we coordinate small power outages in areas where we can’t get small bucket trucks where we need to do the work, like in someone’s yard,” he stated.

When the power outages are necessary, they typically last about an hour, De La Torre said.

However, the amount of time that the power is cut off is determined by the condition of the pole that is being worked on. He said that for the most part, customers have been cooperative and understanding when the outages are deemed necessary.

“The feedback we’ve had from people is generally positive because members know we’re taking the effort to reduce outages and prevent animals from coming into contact with the power lines,” De La Torre said.

He said the DPU’s goal is to put emphasis on the problem areas they’ve experienced in the past. Barranca Mesa and Ponderosa are two of the areas in which outages have been an ongoing problem.

De La Torre said the main reason outages occur is because the cables that were installed in the 1970s had a 30-35 year life. Being that it is now 2009, the cables are coming to the end of their life and need to be replaced.

“A large majority of the cable that was installed in the ’70s was direct buried. It wasn’t in conduit,” he said. In addition, De La Torre said that the neutral cable was in contact with the earth, which can also cause a problem when the salt in the earth deteriorates the copper and breaks down the cable.

“Then you have small percentages of contacts with the wire at some point, such as people digging in their yards, etc. You knick the cable over a prolonged time and it starts failing,” he continued.

He also said that during the monsoon season, the water tends to seep into the weak points in the cable and causes failures to occur.

“During the monsoon season, there tends to be an increase in underground cable failures,” he commented. As a result, DPU staff has a plan that should correct this problem.

“We’ll restore the power and immediately after, we’ll attempt to replace the section area (that has failed.) He said that crews are not able to replace the cable before a failure occurs because there’s so much gauged infrastructure that they can’t do that at this point. We’ll have to focus on those sections that fail. We’ll attempt to replace the section soon thereafter,” he explained.

De La Torre said as crews replace utility infrastructure, linemen will contact the customers that will be affected and alert them of the scheduled outages.

“Work with us,” De La Torre said. “We’ll keep the outages to a minimum. Our goal is to prevent outages from occurring and if they do, that they affect the least amount of people.”