The Investigators

Jun 25, 2014 12:02 AM by Tom McNamara

N4T Investigators: Is TEP ready for Monsoon storms?

The Monsoon brings summer storms that are just days away now. There's danger and trouble below, from flooded roads and washes. There are also potentially deadly hazards from above, including crashing utility poles and downed power lines.

So, the News 4 Tucson Investigators wanted to know what southern Arizona's largest utility company is doing to protect you from Monsoon mishaps this summer.

We witnessed the extreme of a summer storm almost three years ago, when 18 utility poles, standing like soldiers against the storm, were suddenly cut down by Mother Nature.

Businesses in the area were forced to close, and many customer lost electric power for several days.

Tucson Electric Power spent a week replacing those downed poles and power lines. That's something they do 40 to 60 or more times every summer.

"Certainly, our monitoring of the system occurs year-round, we have field employees that are out in the field full-time and they'll conduct visual inspections of our equipment," said Joseph Barrios, with Tucson Electric Power.

Barrios tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, along with constant monitoring of their wooden utility poles, they aim to replace them about every 30 years. Though, some are replaced sooner, and some later, depending on the pole's condition.

Barrios also tells us, they step-up inspections and replacement months before summer storms arrive.

Almost nine out of ten utility poles in TEP's service area are wooden, the kind that can snap in a storm. If that happens, they're replaced with a pole made of steel. Right now, about 12% of TEP's power poles are made of metal. The utility owns or shares more than 100-thousand utility poles in southern Arizona.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators wanted to know if state officials should be keeping a closer eye on utility pole inspections, rather than leaving it up to the power industry to self-inspect on their own schedule.

Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Bob Stump told us by phone, he thinks the utilities are doing a good job of maintaining utility poles and equipment, but there's always room for improvement.

"Certainly one suggestion might be obviously greater frequency in terms of checking the poles out to insure that they are indeed stable," Stumps said.

Stump suggests inspections every five years, for example.

But, keeping power poles in tip-top shape is a costly commitment.

Barrios tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, TEP spends more than $10M per year on all kinds of maintenance and repairs, including poles. But that helps put the odds in your favor when it comes to bracing for what nature brings this summer.

"The challenge is we never know where the weather is going to be strong enough to actually cause outages and cause damage to our equipment," Barrios said.

TEP covers an area of 1,100 square miles, so this kind of effort is no small task.

But, you should always steer clear of downed poles and power lines, even if the situation doesn't look dangerous. It's what you can't see that can kill you.

If you have something you would like the News 4 Tucson Investigators to check out, email us at investigators@ kvoa.com, or call our tip-line at (520) 955-4444.

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