Left to right: Matt Hicks, working foreman; Pete Tomasek, lineman; David Wareham, working foreman; Chris Nunes, lineman; Matt Peek, section supervisor moments after they returned home from PNM’s mutual assistance call.
By Kathleen Mascareñas
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live when a catastrophic storm barrels through your neighborhood with winds up to 80 miles per hour ripping down power lines and leaving your family in the dark—it’s a frightening situation.
Restoring that power as quickly and safely as possible is a lineman’s number one objective, but when conditions are too overwhelming, like the recent thunderstorm in Albuquerque that knocked out power to tens of thousands of customers, utilities such as Public Service of New Mexico (PNM), have to call for help.
“If a utility has a catastrophic event on their system and they don’t have the resources to man the work they reach out to neighboring utilities. Salt River Project (SRP) is really good about responding to those requests,” said on-site line supervisor Matt Peek. “SRP is always willing to help out if possible.”
On July 26, after powerful winds, hail, lightning and flooding rains left close to 28,000 customers without power, PNM reached out to five neighboring utility companies in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico to ask for mutual assistance. It’s the second time in eight months SRP crews raced to aid another utility in need.
“SRP, like a lot of other utilities, is willing to help anybody that has that kind of disaster, said Rick Corven, Director of Electric System Line Maintenance. “We went clear to New York (in November 2012), so going to Albuquerque is what the mutual assistance program is made for … to help surrounding states, for us that’s New Mexico, California, Colorado and Nevada.”
PNM called it “the worst outage in 25 years.” Two days after the storm hit, more than 4,000 residents were still without power. As requested, two, two-man crews and an on-site supervisor in SRP bucket trucks drove 10 hours to lend a hand.
The SRP linemen spent two, 16 hour days doing basic line work. But to the customers who had been without air conditioning, lights and phone service for four days there was nothing basic about it.
“One of the services SRP crews ran on Tuesday was a homeless shelter. They had been without power since Friday. One of the gentlemen there said they house about 40 homeless people a night and fed about 400 a day,” explained SRP supervisor Matt Peek. “Customers were very grateful. It really had a big impact in downtown Albuquerque.”
As a member of the Western Regional Mutual Assistance Group, SRP embarked on its largest mutual assistance assignment in the company’s history last November as 62 linemen, electricians and heavy-duty mechanics headed into the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to relieve millions without power in the Northeast. Through the mutual assistant agreement, SRP has assisted utilities in New York, California, New Mexico and Arizona. Although it’s relatively new to the nation’s third largest public utility, it is more common in other parts of the U.S.
“During a bad storm, we may lose 200 to 300 power poles; in the Midwest they may lose thousands,” added Corven. “The utilities in the Midwest are used to mutual assistance because they have ice and winter storms. Our biggest threat is the monsoon, but we belong to the mutual assistance organizations because you never know when you will need help. If you’re not helping others, will they reach out and help you?”
Supervisors with PNM say this is the first time they called for mutual assistance. To SRP’s line maintenance division it’s becoming “old hat.”
“When the call came out, SRP was ready to help. Since we had been to Long Island we knew exactly what we needed to do. We got our employees, the information from the requesting utility and showed up to help out,” said Corven.