Outage overview: 2023 statistics for Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative


 “The only things certain in life are death and taxes,” the old saying goes. Well, we can add another to the list: power outages. In fact, Hancock-Wood Electric line crews responded to and restored 918 outages in 2023 or an average of 2.5 per day. How HWE handles these outages has changed drastically over my 26-year career at the co-op. 

This month, I’ll review outages that impacted our co-op in 2023 and explore how technology aids the co-op in responding to outages and helps to improve the reliability of your electric service. 

HWE’s primary goal is to deliver the highest possible quality of electric service safely at a fair price. Perhaps the key measure of quality for members is the number of times their lights go out. In 2023, the average member experienced 0.85 outages, which lasted for a total of 70 minutes. These numbers are averages, so, unfortunately, some members may have experienced more outages for a longer total time, while other members may not have experienced even one outage. (Blinks are not included in the number, as federal agencies define an electrical outage as anything lasting more than five minutes.) 

The causes of outages can vary throughout the year and change with the seasons. Surprisingly, most outages — 55% in fact — are related to maintenance and planned work. Every time a meter is pulled to replace equipment or an outage is scheduled to safely perform work, our operations department tracks the outage in our computer system. The next leading outage cause is probably what you would expect — animals such as birds and squirrels. In 2023, crews responded to 118 outages caused by small animals. Have you seen the tin on our power poles? That is one way our crews combat squirrels and raccoons from climbing poles. Electrical hardware and equipment failure was the third leading cause of outages in 2023. HWE attempts to reduce equipment-related outages through an aggressive line rebuild program; typically, a minimum of 15 miles per year of overhead lines are replaced. 

So far, we have just talked about the number of outages and not which outages affect the most members for the longest period. In a change from earlier years, for 2023, the longest outages for most members were not related to transmission outages. HWE takes electric service from the transmission grid at 21 substations. The transmission grid in our area is operated by AEP and First Energy. Traditionally, the leading cause of member outage time could be attributed to transmission outages. Investments in the transmission system, evidenced by all the steel poles in the area, and the quick response to transmission outages, afforded by the HWE SCADA system, have minimized and reduced these types of outages to third place. 

The leading cause of member outage time in 2023 was falling or overhanging trees — specifically, trees falling from outside the right-of-way and striking the overhead lines. More than 1,600 members were affected for over 3½ hours due to trees. This is why the operations department places an emphasis on tree trimming and tree removals. HWE is budgeted to spend approximately $700,000 on clearing rights-of-way in 2024. 

Have you ever wondered what day of the week or time most outages occur? In 2023, most outages occurred on a Tuesday, 9 a.m. was the most likely time for an outage, and the month of June saw the most outages. For some odd reason, the most likely day each month to experience an outage was the 19th. 

Hopefully, this outage review provides a little insight into the challenges faced daily by our highly trained and skilled workforce. Every HWE employee, from our member service group, who answers your phone calls, to our line crews, who brave the elements to restore your electric service, provides their best efforts to put our members first. Even though our electrical system totals almost 1,587 miles in length and covers 10 counties, the average length of an outage was only 82 minutes. 

Please feel free to reach out to your cooperative if you have any questions about how HWE handles outages or if you wonder what the outage history is at your own service location. Ultimately, the cooperative cannot prevent all outages, and at times Mother Nature throws us challenges that exceed the limits of our distribution system. I have faith our dedicated HWE team will be there to turn the lights back on.