Why PSE is here,
Most of the public is not aware of how the orchestration and logistics of contractors by the Utilities after power outages works. Many of you have seen the workers on the line and maybe have even thanked them for coming out and helping get your power back on. Beyond that, a majority of the public and even Utility representatives do not understand how chaotic of a system this is and how many steps take place in the process.
A Lineman is a skilled tradesman that works in the energy sector and as of 2022 there are over 120,000 in the United State. They are spilt up between various types of employers, from utilities and municipalities to contractors and coops. Some are union and some are nonunion but most all of them must endure 3 to 5 years of schooling and training to become one.
The Utilities almost always have contractors working on their property performing general maintenance work, grid conversions, and general resiliency to strengthen their systems. After a storm knocks the power out, there is simply not enough of those contractors on the property to restore the power back in a reasonable time frame. Between the full-time utility line personnel and the contractors on site it could take them weeks to bring power back to a supplier’s region where thousands of customers have been affected.
The first step is organizing the contractors and utility personnel that are already on the property, then to call in those contractors that are not working on the property but can assist, and lastly activate to the Mutual Assistance Network. The Utilities have a bid process for contractors to submit rates for resources and equipment to establish a storm contract to assist in these situations. Some contractors have just a few crews available while others have several hundred resources they can send. Depending on how large of a storm threat there is and potential outages there could be the utility will call these contractors in based on demand. If the threat covers a larger area, then most often, they will call in more contractors to stage in specific areas to respond to the outages more readily.
When organizing this response, time is typically limited and making 60 phone calls to pool together a few dozen contractors can be next to impossible. The alternative is to call a contractor that has several established subcontractors that are affiliated with them that work under their contract for the utility. These contractors are sometimes referred to as Brokers and it’s somewhat of a time saving solution for the utilities. Calling a Broker can sometimes be the only call they need to make for external crews, some of the brokers have over 100 contractors with a combined total number of resources well over 2000.
There are 2 main problems with the broker model and even the current utility construct, management, and logistical locality. Mobilizing crews to assist with the restoration efforts is a very expensive operation and the location of these contractors is synonymous to the overall cost. The list of approved contractors that a utility must call on is limited to those with a storm contract or affiliated with a broker. Consideration of where these contractors are coming from may be an element in planning but volume and availability of resources trump’s location. The brokers will receive a call from the utility and then in turn call out to their subcontractors for availability. Between regular contract work or time frame to respond, not all the pooled subcontractors will be able to commit, so it ends up being a mixed group of contractors pulled in from various areas.
Many times, contractors will be called in from 10 hours away while contractors within an hour or two never receive a call. This results in millions and millions of dollars a year absurdly misappropriated costing the customers and taxpayers directly. Oversite and management are lacking with these crews assisting as well leading to unmitigated conflict that almost always occurs. Without a clearly defined storm hazard safety program and direct procedures and policies governing the operations during the restoration, the liability for the utilities will remain extreme. The solution to this is not simple but there are defined starting points and we have begun working on many of them.
We believe the future of power restoration is locality and a unified collective system. All the qualified line contractors in the country can be mapped out and called in to assist based on proximity. These contractors can be evenly managed and monitored using a standardized set of policies and procedures including direct oversite per General Foreman.
The IBEW Union Lineman, Groundman, and Operators that are utilized by the contractors to fill these emergency calls come from all over the country from various local unions. The logistics involved with this process can be very expensive and time consuming and most often the local union halls cannot assist using their referral lists due to time constraints.
We have been developing a web-based mapping program that will allow us to pull up any contractor and resource in the country based on availability and location. We will have the ability to coordinate and manage the contractors directly for the utilities while simultaneously building out strategically placed satellite yards that are catered to the demand of that region. Our system will also allow us to coordinate the IBEW workforce based on location as well, for our own direct response or under a collective referral list for all the contractors involved.
We don’t have all the answers, but we have the desire to help fix something that is clearly broken. There is a better way and to get there we need to start a serious conversation, to help each other develop better systems and methods of operations. We need help from the Federal Government, Utility representatives, and any/all other associated entities involved with power restoration. We want to establish satellite yards across the country tailored to the demand in each region, tying all of them together through a mutual assistance network of contractors. There is the potential to unify rates per jurisdiction, more accurately prepare for all events big or small, quicker response times, and saving millions a year.