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Sunday, May 17, 2015

You wouldn't block a hydrant, but . . .

The internet is filled with fun pictures of what happens to cars (especially police cars!) that block hydrants, but we in the fire service are all very familiar with bane of overgrown and hidden hydrants as well.

Spot the hydrant!
Mayor fail
Of course, you wouldn't block a hydrant or allow one to be overgrown on your property.  But hydrants are not the only things that need to be found promptly at 3AM in the rain sometimes.  Yes, another power company post, I present you the case of the beleagured and oft-neglected padmount transformer.

Where's the love?
When we are switching to restore power after an outage, my guys are usually working these hot, or are heating them up.  They have to stand several feet away and work with a hot stick, and there is always the risk of equipment failure and a flash arc.

Pay no mind to those tripping hazards.
A bad hydrant won't generally injure or kill you, transformers are a different story.  For this reason, there is a near-universal standard that utility companies require for clearances around transformers.  Not that very many people comply.  Generally speaking, 3' to the sides and rear, and 10' in front for working space as shown by the lineman switching above.


This comes up because of the topic of the previous post, where we've been out auditing a crap-ton of transformers in our system.  We often find occasional problems in the course of day-to-day operations just like we find the oddball hidden hydrant, but there are many more transformers out there than hydrants, and the special attention we've been giving them lately here has given rise to a large number of fun discoveries.

We get a lot of complaints when we have to trim them back in an outage to access a unit, but at least then those people were out of power and sort of get it.  It's when we find and trim some pre-emptively that people really cut loose.  They've been growing that shrub or bush for years to hide it, they say.  It's ugly, they say.  No one has opened it in 15 years they say.  Funny, since electricity is as essential as water is for fire protection (some would say more so), how almost no one complains about fire hydrants.  Even the ones not used for a fire in 15 years.

If you have one of these at your home, in your neighborhood, chances are good you never gave it much thought.  If it's overgrown, I am not going to tell you to clear it out, but I will tell you to not get your panties in a wad if one day the power company does it for you unannounced.  And to not complain too much when there are delays getting the power on while linemen wrangle chainsaws and heavy trimmers just to get to their stuff.

Now you know.  Knowing is half the battle.

Enjoy the gallery, it gradually gets better as you go down.

Even when you know it is there, you can't see it.

This one is actually behind that center tree trunk, way back.

Fence overbuild.  Priceless.
Thanks for reading.  Stay safe out there.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Would you like it gift wrapped, too?

Power company tale here.  Several months ago we got a request from our GIS department.  Seems that at the time of transition from AutoCAD feeder drawings to GIS drawings over ten years ago, a lot of data was not transferred properly.

Now that we're implementing a new asset-tracking platform, the missing data that has been known about for many years is now a problem.  No one really got after it before, because over time we get out to places and did an upgrade here, replacement there, added something on, and each time that happened a tiny little bit is filled in.  In theory I guess this means eventually you'll catch up, but eventually is now too long to wait.

Our project request was to identify in GIS every location where we had a padmount transformer installed with no asset data tied to it, and then send a serviceman out to that unit and record the necessary data.

We're talking somewhere along the lines of 2,000 units.  For realio.

So I've been working on this for months.  Identifying the units, assigning work orders, and collecting their data and funneling it back to the GIS group.  We use these jobs as filler when nothing else is going on, and a little fill is nice when you're bored, but doing 10 or 15 per shift per person on slow days gets old real fast for my guys.

Serviceman Pete is one of my most tenacious guys, but not in the usual sense.  He is tenacious about his time being used efficiently and effectively.  And this job was really bothering him.  He complained, and I told him we had our orders and it was our job to fulfill it.  He had some ideas he wanted to chase down, and I won't stand in the way of my guys, let alone get steamrolled by Pete on a mission.

Pete researched old database records and asked around, lo and behold he located a positively elderly but still functional database that had a great number of these lost units in it, and told the GIS leader about it.  Put two and two together, and most of the missing data was now recoverable with some GIS department desk time matching records up and making updates.

So I get to work today and get an email from the GIS leader with this data in it, explaining that it should help in our search for info, and we can use our established communication chain through the GIS system to get the data back to him.

(screeching, scratch across a vinyl record, full-stop sound effect.)

So, you mean to tell me that you had this data all along?

And, pray tell, why are you sending me the data, that you asked us to get for you?

Would you like me to put a pretty red bow on it and give it back to you, saying "here's the data you asked us to get for you"?

How about this: You keep your data, clean up your records to the best of your ability, and then come talk to us when you've exhausted your resources and actually need help filling in the gaps.

Honestly.  This happened.

Thank the good Lord for great employees like Pete who find solutions, and that I don't have the GIS guy anywhere in my management tree.

Friday, May 15, 2015

No guarantees!

We got a single call for power trouble from a place with three-phase service, some of their stuff wasn't working but they weren't totally out.  According to the mapping data, they were served from three individual overhead transformers.  Certainly this meant that one of those transformers had failed, especially since we were not getting any other calls.  We sent Bear over in 574 to check it out.

Upon arrival, Bear is a little perplexed to find that all three cutouts to the overhead banks are closed in and holding.  He investigates at the customer's panel and is getting no voltage on a couple of their low-side phases.  Perhaps something is wrong in the secondary from the transformers to the panel?  No, it is all above ground, plainly visible, nothing obviously wrong.  Bear flies up in the bucket and tests for voltage above the banks, and shows good voltage to all three transformers.

Nothing is apparently wrong, yet stuff isn't working.  Rare is the day that the Bear is stumped.  Today is one of those days.  Bear swallows his pride and calls for backup.  577 Kevin heads his way.

Kevin arrives and goes through the same checks, comes to the same conclusions.  While he is up in the air near the transformers, Kevin also load-checks all three phases of the 12kV overhead going down the tap to the 150 or so customers downstream past this place.  They are stumped, and looking for inspiration.  Oddly enough, Kevin gets 30-something amps on A phase, 2 amps on B phase, and 50-something amps on C phase.  Ideally they should be sort of balanced, and the mere 2 amps on B phase is outside of plausible under normal circumstances.

This isn't making any sense.  If there is voltage on B phase, people should be in power, but according to the load check of just 2 amps there is effectively no flow going downstream, yet none of the B phase customers downstream have reported power outages over 90 minutes into this incident.

At this point, if I was out there, I would want to have a cup of tea to think things over.  The urge to break something in frustration would also cross my mind.  Thankfully it isn't me out there, but the dedicated duo of Kevin and the Bear.

Kevin has a hunch, and drives back upstream to a set of line reclosers just a few spans before the problem site, and much to his surprise, finds the B phase recloser is open.  Yet..... B phase has voltage.  Can it get any more confuzzling?

Kevin and Bear pair up in one of the trucks and go patrolling the downstream tap to try to sort out the mystery.  Sure enough, about a half mile down the way, they find that something.... wind?... has caused a span of the B phase primary overhead to lay flopped over C phase.  Suddenly, the flood of comprehension washes over them.

Under normal circumstances, all three phases should be more or less equally loaded.  Something caused B and C phase to come in contact with each other and cause a cross-phase fault.  The single phase reclosers for B and C phase would have been extremely unhappy about this and would have tripped one or two times hoping the fault would clear.  The timing of these reclosers was just ever so much of a smidgen off that one of the reclosers closed back in and held while the other gave up.  The result was B phase load was now being carried not through the recloser as normal, but through where the lines were entangled.  This is why there was no load on B phase at the outage site, they were now electrically at the farthest end of B phase with its source coming through the tangle.  This is why no B phase customers reported an outage, at most they saw a couple of blinks.

And lastly, the original caller was the only 3-phase customer on this tap.  Some 3-phase service relies on magical AC theory stuff having to do with the gap between phases, and when two of the three phases are unexpectedly tied together (instead of A-B-C they were getting A-C-C), anything relying on the difference between AB or BC phases will get no potential, and stuff won't work.

If not for that one and only 3-phase customer reporting a problem, there's no telling how long this might have sat this way until something else brought the problem to our attention.

And another lesson was driven home for everyone.  Despite the B phase recloser being open, the line was backfed and hot.  Even if you have a visual open, a line isn't dead until it is grounded and dead.

Those guys did a good job sleuthing it out.  Stay safe out there.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The return of the Grumpy Dispatcher, again

Following another hiatus, I have returned.  Just a touch over a year since my last post.

I have some new ideas about where to go with this blog, some personal stuff going on that I will share about, and have lost the ability to give much of a hoot about whether or not my cover is ever blown.

I say what I mean and I mean what I say.  Well, most of the time.

I see quite a few of my favorite blogs have fallen to the wayside.  Having done so myself now and then, I understand.  Maybe they'll be back some day.  In the meantime, I'll have to start doing some cleanup on my links and blogroll.

How are you guys doing out there?  Anyone still listening?