It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
It was one of those very intense New England winter storms that, in February 2011, buried Vermont in up to 4 feet of snow, not counting drifting snow. So much snow had piled up during the night that when Dan Mackey, fleet manager for Central Vermont Public Service, headed for his office in Rutland, he realized it was impossible to make it. The roads had not yet been sufficiently cleared, so Mackey had to settle for the nearby Poultney, Vt., office to try to manage the fleet from there.
About a dozen customers from the Benson, Vt., area were without power, a nasty situation to contemplate in the dead of winter in a rural area. Pat Traverse, operations supervisor, found out that the roads leading into that area would not be plowed for another day. Mackey overheard the comment and asked, if he could get someone over there with the GT2000, could service be restored to those customers? Traverse responded, “Let’s try it. Service restoration is very important and if we could get service restored to these few customers, the Poultney district would be finished with storm cleanup.”
After explaining the situation and conditions, Ed Baker, shop foreman, volunteered to drive the only equipment that had a chance of making it to the downed lines in that type of weather. He loaded a Prinoth GT2000 track carrier mounted with an Altec AM55 aerial device onto the back of a semitrailer and headed west to Benson. Baker went as far as he could on the unplowed roads before he had to stop. Brian Crossman, second-class lineman, and Baker then unloaded the GT2000 into the snow and ice and headed toward the broken line.
As the GT2000 powered its way to the target, snow built up in front of the windshield, about halfway up. This is equal to about 6 feet of snow that the GT2000 had to muscle through, hauling the 55-foot aerial device. After several hours of hard, cold work by man and machine, power was restored thanks to the combination of the Prinoth GT2000 and the Altec AM55 material-handling aerial device, along with a highly skilled lineman and a very capable vehicle operator.
In June 2012, the Vermont Public Service Board approved the merger of Green Mountain Power and CVPS. CVPS, a shareholder-owned electric utility, serves one of the most rural territories in the country. In place at CVPS is a fleet of more than 300 vehicles and nearly another 150 pieces of equipment. The utility’s transportation team provides a wide range of vehicle and maintenance services and, as was seen in February 2011, also fulfills a vital role as frontline support for operations during storms.
Bringing Tree-Trimming Fleet Needs to the Forefront
In early September, NAFA Fleet Management Association announced the formation of the Utility Line Clearance Tree Equipment Committee. The committee's primary activities will include working to bring equipment needs to the attention of manufacturers. The objectives of ULCTEC include collaborating on industry equipment, regulatory issues and other concerns. The group also plans to standardize the approach to operator training and develop an operator training template that covers key areas for all equipment. ULCTEC will interact with both the NAFA Corporate Fleet and Utility Fleet committees.
Dave Lynn, CAFM, equipment service manager for Penn Line Service, is the committee chair, and Lenny Hedgelin, fleet and equipment training coordinator for Lucas Tree Experts, is ULCTEC’s vice chair. The committee's secretary/treasurer is Kevin Fitzpatrick, CAFM, of Wright Tree Service, and its reporting officer is Claude Masters, CAFM, of Florida Power & Light. Other current ULCTEC members are Chuck Cotton of Lucas Tree Experts and Mike Harris, CAFM, of Carolina Tree Care. Committee membership is limited to NAFA members who have utility line tree clearance responsibilities.
Asplundh Crews Continue Storm Work
After Hurricane Isaac made landfall in late August, residents of Louisiana and Mississippi were among the first to see equipment and crews from Asplundh Tree Expert Co. Included were approximately 1,700 workers from 21 states who joined with hundreds of local Asplundh employees to remove storm-damaged limbs and trees. The crews were sent to assist utilities restoring power in the wake of the hurricane, including Entergy Corp., Central Louisiana Electric Co., Mississippi Power and Magnolia Electric Power Association.
Hundreds of these mobilized crews began their trek for storm restoration work weeks earlier when Florida Power & Light began to prepare for Hurricane Isaac to hit the southern half of the state. When Isaac skirted Florida’s western coast and headed for New Orleans, most of the crews were sent to Louisiana and Mississippi. Asplundh also sent its mobile storm center trailer to Baton Rouge, La., to be a base of operations and communication for its crews. At the same time, Asplundh’s storm coordination team, in its Willow Grove, Pa., headquarters, worked throughout the Labor Day holiday to expedite the movement of crews and address logistical issues.
Life Cycle Cost Modeling
The issues are not unfamiliar to utility fleet managers. While developing models for vehicle replacements that meet operational and cost needs, fleets must also compete for capital funds and address the impact of inconsistent funding. If the fleet is aging due to a lack of capital for replacements, there is the added concern about having enough trained technicians to care for older vehicles.
Fleet managers involved in this process ask themselves important questions. Why do we replace vehicles at specific intervals? What are the most recent utilization patterns and will they change? What are current and projected purchase prices? What are our parts and labor costs for particular types of equipment? What are our projected residual values at different replacement intervals?
The experiences of three fleets shed some light on this challenging aspect of utility fleet management and the ways in which positive results can be realized.
Kansas City Power & Light
“Our fleet is comprised of about 1,570 units and the average age of the equipment is just under eight years,” said Steve Granger, fleet manager. “Our life cycle study objectives took into account the aging fleet, our business model, and evaluations of previous practices and assumptions. The goal was to optimize the use of capital and level operating and maintenance costs.”
The result of this predictive approach, according to Granger, was an increase in capital funding of 30 percent over three years. “That was possible,” he added, “because we had a clear understanding of our objectives as we buy vehicles and equipment to support our company’s transmission and distribution and generation assets.”
Spanning a wide variety, there are nearly 3,100 vehicles and 1,100 pieces of equipment in the ComEd fleet. Annually, the utility’s vehicles travel more than 28 million miles.
“We had inconsistent funding from 2001 through 2009, which created large peaks and valleys in spending,” said Mike Radziewicz, director of fleet. “That also resulted in an aging fleet where about 40 percent of the vehicles and equipment were beyond life cycle. At the same time, 68 percent of the fleet is alternatively fueled and there’s interest in expanding the number of hybrid electric vehicles.
“Historically,” Radziewicz continued, “we had difficulty in competing for capital dollars and mathematically proving why we need consistent funding. Large groups of vehicles were coming due for replacement without funding in place and, at the same time, parts and labor costs and the number of annual work orders we generated were becoming unpredictable.”
The ComEd fleet’s recommendation for capital spending was based on a three-year – versus a five-year – vehicle life cycle. “We also indicated the benefits of maintaining recommended life cycles,” Radziewicz related. “Included were lower overall cost of vehicle ownership from reduced maintenance costs and improved residual values, reduced vehicle downtime that improved crew and fleet productivity through quicker maintenance turnaround, along with reduced rental costs.”
A strategy to optimize vehicle investments at ComEd was based on analyzing vehicle life cycle costs to determine optimal replacement cycles, and establishing a three- to five-year plan to bring the entire fleet back into an acceptable life cycle. “We used risk scoring to prioritize vehicle replacements,” Radziewicz said. “We standardized vehicle builds and types by vocation and matched fleet size to current and planned organizational staffing. The results include a vehicle replacement plan that calls for three years of consistent funding. We are also working to level future spending in the long-range budget.”
With 7,500+ pieces of equipment, Pike Electric fields one of the largest electrical construction contracting fleets in the United States. Included are bucket trucks, digger derricks, cranes, pickups, and an assortment of dozers, excavators and backhoes.
To address replacement needs, said Cliff Edwards, vice president, fleet and support, Pike looks at controllable and other factors. Included are capital and maintenance costs and salvage or residual values. Other factors are standardization, the equipment’s condition at the time it’s being turned in, the benefits of an auction service or private sale, storm response and business growth needs, and contract stipulations. Additionally, replacement plans are impacted by equipment lead time and rental vehicle availability.
By taking into account all of the many factors outlined by these three utility executives, a path to determining the optimum time for vehicle and equipment replacement becomes clear.
Editor’s Note: These scenarios were first presented at the 2012 Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference. EUFMC 2013 will be held June 2-5 in Williamsburg, Va. For more information, visit www.eufmc.com.