It wasn’t a good weekend to be an electrical lineman in Juneau, but it has been a good year.
According to newly released company figures, the average customer of Alaska Electric Light and Power lost power for only 94 minutes in 2017. That’s better than the previous record, set in 2016 at 106 minutes, and well below the national average of 273 minutes.
(The national average is from 2016; figures from last year are not yet available.)
While chilly and wet weather this past weekend caused a two-hour outage on Thane Road and sent trucks rolling into the wet, those kinds of extended outages have become much less common, the company’s data show.
In 2008, when the city’s main electrical transmission line was severed by an avalanche, the average Juneauite was without power for almost six and a half hours per year. That figure was cut by more than an hour in 2009 and by almost another hour the following year.
Juneau’s power grid holds up well when compared to its Alaska contemporaries. In 2016, the latest year for which figures are available from the federal Energy Information Administration, the Matanuska Electric Association had 331 minutes of outages. Fairbanks’ Golden Valley Electric Association had 328 minutes of outages. Homer Electric Association had 214 minutes of outages.
Solely urban utilities, such as Anchorage’s Municipal Light and Power, fared better: ML&P had 42 minutes of outages.
All figures are averages: Some customers will have been without power for greater lengths of time; others will have had few (if any) outages.
“Certainly it’s an accumulation of a bunch of improvements over recent years,” said Debbie Driscoll, vice president for consumer affairs at AEL&P, explaining the reasons for Juneau’s reliability.
Driscoll said maintenance crews now have thermal cameras to detect problems before they knock out power. There also are easily visible LED indicators on equipment to show where a problem exists.
In places where birds are a problem, AEL&P has added things that discourage them from interfering with lines.
After the 2008 avalanche, the power line from the Snettisham hydroelectric plant was reinforced with avalanche diverters that have already saved the transmission line at least once.
Juneau has benefited from largely snowless winters, and while there have been severe storms, there haven’t been any major disasters.
Perhaps the biggest thing is something simple, what Driscoll calls “vegetation management.”
AEL&P has aggressively trimmed trees and vegetation along its lines, reducing the number of chances for things to go wrong.
“We found over the last five years or so that’s really made a difference. Especially in storms,” Driscoll said.
AVERAGE OUTAGE PER YEAR
5yr Avg: 2:32:10
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