GIS cooperative snapshots: Holy Cross Energy, Union Power, Tri-County Electric Membership Corp.

Kathleen Wolf Davis | Dec 20, 2012

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Cooperatives have come to a judgmental consensus on the value of GIS, and it’s a definite “thumbs up.” From overall views of distribution networks to the details of accounting for streetlights, here are three personal GIS cooperative case studies to consider.

Holy Cross Energy is an electric cooperative in western Colorado that started with a GIS (geographic information system/geospatial infrastructure system) for lighting and ended up benefiting from a number of unexpected cross-system positives.

Tonya Warmenhoven, Holy Cross Energy’s meter supervisor,began her security and streetlight project by lugging a laptop into the field. Said laptop had software and a custom map, but, back within the snug walls of the utility, she had to transfer locations to the utility’s old-school paper map system. Luckily, that system didn’t last long. Eventually, Holy Cross’ GIS team created a web app that allowed Warmenhoven to shed the paper.
Eventually, the project advanced to custom GIS with web-editing applications which allowed Warmenhoven to input data herself without relying on paper maps or analyst updates. This only requires access to a web browser at the satellite office where Warmenhoven works. The new process saves Holy Cross four labor hours each week, and it’s improved billing accuracy by ensuring that all street and security lights are properly accounted for and properly billed.

"We have saved $442 per month for one of the towns we serve, as they were paying for devices that no longer existed and were paying for higher wattage bulbs than they should have been,” Warmenhoven said. "An association in our service area, on the other hand, had been getting free power for its streetlights and lighted address markers for at least 10 years. They are now billed $600 per month for 178 new devices we have added."
Moving from streetlight data clean-up to a comprehensive view of the network, Union Power Cooperative in Monroe, North Carolina is utilizing the mobile aspects of their GIS.

The staff at Union Power Cooperative use mobile GIS to achieve a comprehensive view of the electric distribution network, with data from throughout the company merged into one real-time, easy-to-use map known as the Union Power Operations Dashboard.

The dashboard provides real-time and historical outage information, data from the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system such as voltage and momentary interruptions, up-to-the-minute work order type and location details, and meter-tampering indications. Using the dashboard, staff can quickly answer questions about operational status, incidents or outages.

Based on a template, the dashboard can be used as a guide for decision-making and responses, with optional “apps” such as reads, work orders and high- or low-voltage data. And, those dashboard apps can be accessed from smartphone apps available for workers.

"We learned that the dashboard not only provided more information to our employees but was also much faster and easier to use than our existing digital maps," said Todd Harrington, GIS administrator at Union Power. "It has helped us discover meter tampering a lot faster. Within the first week the meter tampering widget was live, it recovered more than $3,000 in meter tampering that we may have never recovered or would have taken the next billing cycle to discover."

Finally, Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation in central Tennessee and southern Kentucky, isn’t about mobility or data details. They’re happy with a GIS that simply helps with inspections, which used to be tracked on paper.

For years, staff would have to deal with lists of poles made at the substation or more recent printouts of circuits, which was an inefficient, frustrating process. Repairs would be delayed by the need to make trips to the field, do follow-ups and report back. But, they kept the process because they new how to use it. It was easy, routine and didn’t require training someone who wouldn’t know a computer from a carburetor.

But, the ease of current tablets (and their cost effectiveness) convinced the utility to try out GIS for inspections. Now the utility can package the entire base map of TCEMC and all of the equipment to be inspected into a tablet with GPS for location and cameras to document problem areas.

The administration of the system is minimal and every effort was made to automate tasks when possible. The pending inspections are identified by comparing GIS data to the list of inspections that have been recently completed. The routing of the identified problems to the appropriate department is done automatically.

A web-based application was created to manage the resulting corrective actions for the departments, and to incorporate the information into the engineering staking package, streamlining a system that once clung to paper maps for security. Now, that same system is inventive and flexible, as is the cooperative.

Jessica Wyland at ESRI contributed to this story; ESRI also contributed the lead art.

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