Copper Valley Electric Keeps Power Outages At Bay (So Far) In Disastrous Weather

What It Takes To Keep The Lights On  FECON chipper. (All photos, CVEA)  While the Mat-Su Borough suffers from major power outages, the Coppe...

What It Takes To Keep The Lights On 

FECON chipper. (All photos, CVEA) 
While the Mat-Su Borough suffers from major power outages, the Copper River Valley and Valdez have gone through recent bad weather with uninterrupted electricity. 

The Copper River Country Journal talked with Travis Million, the CEO of Copper Valley Electric, on January 5th, 2022.  Here's a summary of the interview:

Were there any power outages? 
We were actually discussing that as a staff Monday morning. We ended up having two small outages. I think it was 5 members that were out of power during the windstorms. One  power outage was in the Copper Basin and one in Valdez with 2 and 3 consumers…

Was it such smooth sailing because of all the clearing work you’ve been doing?

The work we’ve been doing on our right of way, the lands that fall underneath our lines, has definitely helped. The work we’ve been doing to clear the trees within our right of way is definitely paying off. 


We started being more aggressive with our vegetation management in  2018 on both the transmission lines and distribution lines. Transmission lines are the larger ones in the pass that run between Glennallen and Valdez. You can think about it as a freeway moving electricity longer distances efficiently. It moves power between the two CVEA districts. The smaller wires you see on the highway are the distribution lines that brings the power  to the houses and businesses.


What are the power plants you're running?

Currently Solomon Gulch is running right now at a reduced output due to the lake freezing during the winter. Our diesel plants in Valdez and Glennallen are running. And the cogeneration plant in Valdez is supplying nearly half of our power needs. It’s a turbine generator that’s located at the Valdez Refinery. The refinery takes the crude from the pipeline and refines it into heating fuel and a few other products. We buy Light Straight Run (LSR) fuel directly from the refinery, generate electricity, then sell the exhaust heat back to the refinery for their refining process. It benefits our members significantly and is our lowest cost fossil fuel generation plant. Of the exhaust heat that  CVEA sells, 80% of that revenue is put back on the member’s power bill as a credit.


In the 2012 and 2013 timeframe we relocated about 4 miles of transmission lines through Thompson Pass which has contributed to reductions in power outages of the transmission line caused by avalanches. 


What machines do you use to clear rights of way? 

We have two machines. The first one we have is called a sky trim. We bought that a couple of years ago. The sky trim has a saw blade at the end of a 75 foot scoping pole.

What it does is it allows us to drive down the right of way and vertically cut branches and trees that are leaning into our right of way. 


Sky Trim 

And then the piece of equipment, is a FECON mower, it’s like a chipper or brush cutter. That chips up any of the debris and small trees that are in the right of way. It is a violent piece of equipment but it works well. 


Our engineering and operations department have identified different types of equipment that is aging and added additional equipment over the years.


The equipment isolate outages into smaller pockets. Adding additional equipment to shorten distances between protective devices reducing the area the linemen have to patrol looking for the cause of the outage. They limit sections to affect less people. 



When the power does go down -- is it usually trees going into the line or an equipment failure?
It can be a mix. It really depends. Trees come into contact with the lines in probably half the outages we have. Equipment failures are ice and snow loading on the lines causing the lines to touch the ground or touch each other which probably causes a lot of the outages we have as well. 

What do you do at home if there's a power outage?
If you have an outage the first thing we tell our members is to call our dispatch center. (You’re calling Solomon Gulch at 866-835-2832. They’ll ask you a series of questions trying to determine where you are located, to determine if the outage is on your side of the meter or CVEA’s side. (If it’s CVEA’s side we’ll dispatch a lineman to respond to the outage.) 

There are 3 linemen that are based out of Valdez and 3 are based out of Glennallen. If you’re not on Facebook we’ve set up our Facebook to feed on our website at cvea.org. 


The big 2017 December outage 
The 2017 outage was caused by heavy wet snow that literally brought thousands of trees onto our lines in the entire Copper Basin system. Valdez was not affected by that outage.

In that one we hired crews to come out of Anchorage to assist. It was way too much for our small crews. (We got a 5 man crew out of Anchorage and a 3 man local crew that was just cutting trees for us.)

In Kenny Lake area it was out for three days. That outage was probably one of the big catalysts of why we bought the Sky Trim. We were working on (clearing the right of ways) but not as aggressive as today…

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