Reliability is our middle name

By Joseph H. Joplin

joe-joplinFor about 100 years, Raleigh's newspaper, The News & Observer, has been known fondly as "The Old Reliable." The story is that a salesman and political observer named Wiley Rogers used the term while selling subscriptions. The idea was that you could rely on The News & Observer: it would be there every day, it presented the news fairly but you knew where it stood on the issues. It was a reliable newspaper, whether or not you considered it "The Nuisance and Disturber."

Reliability is important in the electric utility industry, too. People and businesses rely on electricity 24 hours a day, and electricity providers strive to be reliable in delivering that power. You want the electricity to be there when you need it, and generally it's not until the power goes out for some reason that you realize how reliant on it you truly are.

Since they were formed in the 1930s and 1940s, member-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives have concentrated on one mission: to provide safe, reliable and affordable electricity. You've probably heard and seen that expression — safe, reliable and affordable — many times. Employees at all electric cooperatives are taught to consider this the top priority of their jobs.

So what exactly is reliability to an electric cooperative?

It means maintaining a system that delivers electricity routinely without fail, and to restore delivery when circumstances cause the system to fail.

Over the years, electric utilities have applied best technology to improve and maintain their reliability. There were times when even minor weather events or equipment failures would cause power outages that lasted for hours. By learning how to make delivery systems work better, and how to detect problems, your cooperative has kept those outages to a minimum. Today, co-ops continually inspect equipment and make engineering adjustments to catch problems before they lead to blinks or outages. When was the last time your power failed for an extended period because of something other than a major storm?

Recent surveys show that you appreciate the strides your cooperative has made in providing your power reliably. The 2011 National Survey on the Cooperative Difference conducted for Touchstone Energy co-ops measured member satisfaction with 16 "core services." Results were that North Carolina co-op members rated "provides reliable service" the highest of the 16 services with a score of 9.03 out of a possible 10. In fact the services ranked 2nd to 6th in the survey all related in some way to reliability, in this order: outage restoration, handling problems promptly, treating members fairly, trustworthiness, and delivering on promises. They all scored above 8.5 on the scale of 10.

As technology in this business continues to improve, you are seeing even more progress in the reliability of your service. Just as communication technology advances, so does the technology designed to deliver electricity — from the generating plants, across the transmission grid and your cooperative's poles and lines, to your homes and businesses. These days we're seeing advances in high-tech detection and repair of line problems, communication between field personnel and central office, grid security, interaction with end-use equipment, and integration of renewable and decentralized energy generation. When you hear the terms "smart grid" and "grid modernization," you're hearing about your cooperative's work in improving and maintaining reliability.

About the Author

Joseph H. Joplin is general manager of Rutherford EMC, the Touchstone Energy cooperative that serves more than 67,000 member accounts in Rutherford, McDowell, Polk, Cleveland, Burke, Gaston and Lincoln counties and parts of Caldwell, Catawba and Mitchell counties.

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