Transmission workers keep the power flowing

Electric cooperatives own and maintain roughly 65,000 miles, or 6 percent, of the nation’s transmission lines and 2.5 million miles, or 42 percent, of its distribution lines.

In the last couple of years, Great River Energy’s transmission system set new records for reliability and service scores. In February of this year, it accomplished and unprecedented milestone. For the first time since record keeping began in 1999, there was not a single sustained transmission outage for the entire month.

This extended period of uninterrupted service is the result of a coordinated effort to maintain the transmission system to deliver bulk electricity to cooperative members.

Consumers interact with their electric cooperatives each time they plug in a device or flip a light switch, but what goes on behind the scenes is far more complex. The power grid, which can be described as the largest, most complex machine ever built, involves an intricate network of power lines crisscrossing neighborhoods, open country and cities.

The tricky thing about electricity is that it must be used, or moved to where it can be used, the moment it’s produced. It generally can’t be stored like water or gas. What’s more, electricity moves at the speed of light along the path of least resistance. This basic principle calls for a carefully monitored, intricate system to move it 24 hours a day.

Literally millions of miles of power lines span the United States in a complex series of “highways.” These lines can be broken into two main categories:

Transmission: These high-voltage “interstates” move electricity over vast distances. Great River Energy operates transmission facilities that deliver wholesale electricity to each of its member cooperatives, like Arrowhead Electric.

Distribution: These are the “local roads” that run through towns and neighborhoods and into homes and businesses. Arrowhead Electric, one of Great Rivers Energy’s 28 member cooperatives, maintains their own distribution systems.

To understand how Great River Energy’s transmission staff restores power during an outage, think of electricity distribution like a river in reverse. It originates at a single ocean of power – a generation plant – and diverges from there into a series of transmission lines, substations and smaller distribution lines until it reaches homes and businesses at a fraction of its original strength.

When crews start assessing storm damage they work to fix the biggest problems first (those starting near the plant), prioritizing repairs according to how they can get the most homes back in service the fastest.

Great River News – April edition

Comments are closed.