Staking and mapping show members the cooperative way
When one of Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative’s staking engineers first meets a member, the goal isn’t simply to complete a plan needed to bring service to a home or business. That engineer acts as an ambassador for the cooperative.
In many cases, setting up service for a property may be the first time a member works with SVEC. So for staking engineers like Joe Barclay, the job includes demonstrating what makes the cooperative different from other utilities.
“Our goal is to put the member and their needs first in everything we do,” says Barclay. “We consider factors like reliability, cost and the planned locations of structures, access roads and driveways.”
The engineers even take aesthetics into consideration. For example, where should poles be placed so they won’t spoil the view from a window? It’s a careful balancing act that introduces new members to the cooperative difference from day one.
When a customer requests service at a new residence or business, Jerry Yunes, mapping and staking work order coordinator, helps arrange a meeting between the member and one of SVEC’s four staking engineers, a meeting that usually occurs within a few days of the request, says Barclay.
At the meeting, the engineer will work closely with the member to identify and mark the best locations for any poles, power lines and other equipment needed to complete the job. They will also determine if the member must remove tree limbs or acquire right-of-way easements before electrical service can begin.
Sometimes, the member may be required to pay for some of the installation. Yunes says SVEC provides the first 1,200 feet of line for residences and the first 200 feet for other establishments at no cost to the member.
After the member accomplishes any assigned tasks, pays any required fees and completes other preparatory requirements such as installing a meter base, the mapping and staking department will pass the installation request to SVEC’s Construction Department.
Meanwhile, SVEC’s Geographic Information System (GIS) and Mapping Specialist Kathy Hals enters the locations of any new poles, transformers and other equipment into the cooperative’s computer database — useful information, especially when incidents impact the co-op’s power grid.
Years ago, SVEC launched an initiative to document the locations of all equipment in the grid, a process that took four years, and members have reaped the benefits. The GIS reduces the amount of time members go without power by allowing SVEC to more quickly identify the source and location of a problem.
“We run more efficiently,” Hals says. “Knowing which transformer, fuse or line is affected cuts the time needed to restore power. The equipment information documented in the system allows us to isolate the location of an electrical fault and reroute power to members who are not in the section of lines where the fault is located.”
The information also allows field crews to respond more quickly.
“Everyone at SVEC has a computer or mobile device. When an outage occurs, crews can quickly go straight to the source and get to work,” Barclay says.
Since employees now document every new pole or device as it is installed, the system is updated daily. Before automation, crews could only access printed maps — which could be as much as 2 years old before they were updated.
“By the time you got through printing the new maps, even they were out of date,” Hals says. “Things change so quickly. We’re very proud of our ability to update information continuously now.”
In the event of a large event such as a hurricane, the wealth of information streamlines response. Hals says the data allows SVEC employees to understand which repairs will impact the most customers, allowing them to efficiently guide resources to those locations.
“It is absolutely critical for outage management,” Hals says of the work completed by the staking and mapping department.