Power that Persists: Power to Deliver
February 21, 2022
FOUNDED IN 1937 TO BRING POWER TO THE PEOPLE, THE NEWLY FORMED COOPERATIVE, STEARNS ELECTRIC ASSOCIATION, INTENDED TO BRING ELECTRICITY TO FARMS IN RURAL CENTRAL MINNESOTA. MUCH HAS CHANGED IN OUR 85-YEAR HISTORY, BUT DELIVERING ELECTRICITY TO OUR MEMBER-CONSUMERS REMAINS A TOP PRIORITY FOR THE COOPERATIVE.
People are using electricity more than ever before. According to a Deloitte survey, the average household in the United States has 25 connected devices. Add those devices to our everyday household needs – such as ovens and microwaves, heating and air conditioning units, hot water heaters, washing machines and clothes dryers, refrigerators and more – the need for consistent, reliable electricity is greater than ever before.
At Stearns Electric, we have a dedicated team of employees who are equipped to make sure electricity is delivered to our members when they want it. Our linemen spend their days maintaining our electrical distribution system and restoring outages. The engineering team ensures our distribution system is built to meet the electricity demand from our members both now and into the future.
And our operations department makes certain all Cooperative employees have the tools, equipment and resources they need to get their jobs done both efficiently and safely.
Throughout the last 85 years, the challenges of being a line worker have not changed much. But the safety gear and equipment definitely have.
In 1937, people had been working on power lines for several years already, so it wasn’t an entirely new practice to bring electricity to rural Central Minnesota. Line worker gear included belts and climbers for the linemen to shimmy up the power poles. Line workers wore hats to protect themselves from the elements and had access to manual equipment to make digging holes for power pole placement a little easier.
It wasn’t until after the 1950s that bucket trucks and rubber gloves became commonplace for line workers. And after the 70s, line workers donned hard hats and rubber sleeves.
“Today, Stearns Electric line workers and substation crews are required to wear special fire-resistant clothing every day, along with the appropriate gear needed to work with high voltage electricity,” Manager of Operations Glenn Blommel explained. “This includes hard hats, rubber gloves, rubber sleeves, safety glasses, safety-toed boots and safety harnesses.”
These items are examined and tested daily by employees. “One pin hole in a rubber glove can cause severe injury or worse,” Blommel continued. “We take safety training, and the safety of our employees and equipment, seriously at the Co-op.”
“Stearns Electric’s line workers participate in monthly safety training covering topics like working on overhead lines and equipment operations,” Safety and Loss Control Coordinator Deb Goebel said. “They also practice power pole-top rescues annually and are certified in CPR and First Aid.”
In order to deliver reliable electricity to our members, it is crucial to keep our field employees safe.
Over the last 85 years, significant improvements in technology have helped the Cooperative respond to outages more quickly and deliver electricity more reliably to our members.
Before today’s technology was available, Cooperative employees answered phone calls for outages and hand wrote tickets for each outage. Member information was organized in printed binders and sorted by name, address, member number and service location. Office employees would radio the outage location to line crews, who would in turn find the location in their printed map books and then respond to each individual outage.
“Today, with the SmartHub mobile app, members can easily log into their account 24/7 and report their outage within seconds. Each of our linemen are equipped with an iPad in the field which includes detailed maps of our entire distribution system, so they are able to immediately access this information, allowing for quicker response times and outage restoration,” Engineering and Operations Support Supervisor Melissa Welle said.
“Through our outage management system (OMS) we have the ability to ping meters to determine the extent of an outage and identify other services on the same line without power. Assisting line crews so they don’t have to patrol entire line sections when there is an outage saves time for everyone – crews can respond and discover power outage causes faster, and essentially restore power to our members in a shorter period of time,” Welle continued.
In the last few years, you might have driven past one of our line crews working in the field and wondered what everyone was doing, looking down at their tablets. Our linemen, substation techs, Energy Service field personnel, arborist and staking engineers carry iPads, tablets or laptops with them to every job site. These iPads have apps and resources available so each crew can complete daily safety checks, document job briefing discussions and perform their daily work as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Each iPad includes detailed maps of the entire distribution system. Every piece of equipment in the field is documented and accounted for.
“This technology has given our field personnel a wealth of information at their fingertips to safely and quickly respond to outages, perform line work and communicate across departments,” Blommel explained. “Our system map can easily be viewed in great detail, along with details of our 33 substations and other special line equipment. This has been a real game changer for the Co-op and a tool that keeps getting better and better.”
The power to deliver reliable energy to our members has improved significantly since our early days. Advancements in equipment, safety gear and technology allow Cooperative employees to spend adequate time every year patrolling power lines looking for safety hazards and potential outage causes, cutting trees out of the right-of-way, and using infrared technology to assess our substations and underground power lines throughout our distribution system. All of this plays a significant role in
our ability to deliver our members the electricity they need when they want it.
We pride ourselves on safely delivering reliable electricity to our member-consumers. It’s our mission today, just as it was 85 years ago.
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