Green Mountain Power was Advised that a Geographic Information System Upgrade is typically implemented in several phases over the course of two or more years. However, the utility chose to expedite the migration process and targeted deployment within one year. Green Mountain Power (Colchester, Vermont, U.S.) completed its GIS upgrade in early fall 2008, in part to expand its outage management system (OMS) functionality.

The migration team worked doggedly since project kickoff the prior November. The implementation pace soon had team members wondering if they'd taken on more than they could handle. However, when an ice storm in December 2008 arrived, they realized they had made the right decision to race to deployment.

THE NEED FOR INTEGRATED OMS

Green Mountain Power, owned by Northern New England Energy Corp. (South Burlington, Vermont), provides electricity to approximately 165,000 people in Vermont — about one-fourth of the state's population. For six years prior to 2007, the utility had successfully used an AutoCAD-based GIS/mapping system with a homegrown OMS that worked on top of Microsoft MapPoint. But by 2007, the operations and engineering groups and control center units all acknowledged this system had reached its full potential of functionality:

  • The system could not determine the protective device that was open and responsible for the outage. Only if the customer called, and the customer was found in the system, did it map the incident.

  • MIGRATION TO ENTERPRISE GIS

    The storm-response team had to sort through a long list of people who had called about outages; there was no easy way to group them to make the response efficient.

  • The system did not show the actual distribution or transmission lines — only the streets and sometimes the poles — and did not indicate the direction of distribution feed.

With its relatively small staff (fewer than 200 employees), Green Mountain Power has a customer-employee ratio of 485-to-1, roughly twice the industry average. The staff needed to get optimum mileage from the utility's geodatabase to help make internal business processes as efficient as possible.

The utility chose to migrate to the object-oriented ArcGIS platform from ESRI (Redlands, California, U.S.) and Telvent's (Fort Collins, Colorado, U.S.) ArcFM Solution based on ArcGIS, developed specifically for utilities. Also chosen were the ArcFM-hosted Responder OMS and ArcFM mobile extensions that would send field updates to the enterprise geodatabase and make up-to-date electric infrastructure data available efficiently to engineers and designers.

The migration involved workflow analysis, configuration of the ArcFM GIS and conversion of the network assets database containing GPS coordinates of 90 substations, 95,000 meters, approximately 90,000 poles and all load points in between. The team also took advantage of the open architecture of the new system to interface the Responder OMS with the existing Banner interactive voice recognition (IVR) and FleetHawk automated vehicle location (AVL) systems.

RESPONDER PUT TO THE TEST

Green Mountain Power management gave the responsibility of implementing the GIS and OMS to the staff who would be using it. The core migration team — consisting of a networking principal, two engineering designers and a GIS administrator — adopted ownership of the new system from the very start, logging many long days until the go-live late in September.

Little did they know then that those long days of design, development and deployment were just a boot-camp preparation for the active duty ahead.

The storm, now considered the worst ice event in southern Vermont history, started the evening of Thursday, Dec. 11, 2008. It lasted 12 hours, during which time the governor issued a state disaster declaration for Vermont's southernmost counties: Bennington, Windham and Windsor. Those three counties are part of Green Mountain Power's southern division, comprised of the Wilmington, Westminster and White River service areas.

While everyone on hand was glad to have the Responder OMS in production at the time of the ice storm, not many of the staff had yet been brought up to speed on the software. However, the few who endured the GIS migration boot camp were comfortable with the system. One person, stationed at the Colchester control center in the utility's western division, monitored real-time incident information sourced from all three of Green Mountain Power's divisions; a dispatcher in each of the White River, Westminster and Wilmington satellite offices viewed the OMS real-time data and dispatched Green Mountain Power's 26 two-man crews, along with support crews from contract resources and other utilities.

EMPOWERED WITH REAL-TIME INFORMATION

The evening of the storm, the team received an e-mail from the project liaison at Telvent (the GIS vendor) asking if all was okay. The team's brief response was contained to the subject line of the reply:

With limited experience since rollout, the team was pleased the vendor offered to help and gladly accepted support, through wireless, on a few issues.

Interfaced with the call center and IVR, the Responder OMS received about 7500 calls over the course of the event, automatically identified customer location and logged the incidents, and provided a Web-based, real-time incident management report. Between the call center staff, management and staff from other departments, approximately 30 people were using the Responder OMS Web interface at any given time and could read the most-current number of customers affected, identify locations of outages and view the AVL truck locations. If a callback was requested by a customer, the person taking the call was able to flag it in the incident management report so the call center could follow up.

BENEFITS OF OMS

The electrical connectivity of the Responder model predicted the extent of the outage based on the asset status, allowing the storm team to identify what locations were affected even without receiving an outage call. This was particularly helpful because some of the affected area included winter vacation/ski residences not occupied at the time. With the older OMS, the response effort likely would have missed some of those homes — which were soon to be occupied by holiday visitors.

With a real-time accounting of actual calls and a predicted extent of the outage, dispatchers could focus on the incidents with the highest customer count or those incidents considered critical because life support or oxygen supply were involved. From there, dispatchers could work down to single-customer outages, helping to make the restoration effort as efficient and effective as possible.

The average outage duration was 17 hours, and the Green Mountain Power staff is convinced the Responder OMS helped to minimize this average restoration time by making crew dispatching more efficient. The OMS provided the following benefits during the outage:

  • The exact count of customers out of service.

  • The ability to pinpoint the tripped protective device and direct line crews to it.

  • A map of the system showing all the outage and truck locations in real time. The call center staff members accessing this information through a Web interface were able to provide up-to-date information to customers as they called in.

  • The ability to run crews through the entire restoration with minimal software support (one lead dispatch and a local dispatch in three other satellite offices).

  • The ability to place non-electric incidents on the map for post-storm follow-up, such as incidents where service was energized but pulled off the house or where a tree fell on a service. An appropriate symbol on the map allowed staff to print follow-up maps that streamlined post-response cleanup effort by the crews.

GIS Allows Expanding Capabilities

Another plus was that there was no observed impact on the Responder's performance as the number of total incidents increased. This was a significant improvement over the legacy system, which often locked up after 10,000 or more incident entries.

After all the pieces were picked up, everyone's lights were back on, and the storm team caught up on sleep, the utility received recognition from the state of Vermont legislature, commending the employees and leadership of Green Mountain Power and those utilities and companies assisting it in restoring power after the ice storm.

Road crews from several local towns sanded the roads voluntarily so that electric crews could access damaged assets. Support also included a number of restaurants that provided food and water, hotels and motels that allowed weary electric crews to catch much-needed sleep, businesses that supplied needed materials, and public and emergency services that provided invaluable assistance.

Green Mountain Power couldn't have done it without them or the Telvent Responder outage management system.


Josh Castonguay (castonguay@greenmountainpower.com), lead engineer at Green Mountain Power, was technical lead in implementing the ArcFM / Responder project at Green Mountain Power. He supervises seven electrical engineers who plan and design substations and transmission and large distribution infrastructure. He is now highly focused on the development of sustainable energy in Vermont, working with the state of Vermont and other local utilities in projects developing solar, wind, methane and other renewable-energy sources. He earned his BSEE degree at the University of Maine and has been employed at Green Mountain Power since 2003.

Even with its relatively small staff, Green Mountain Power (Colchester, Vermont, U.S.) has exceeded conventional service-quality standards, including those set by Vermont regulations. With its investment in the open-architecture GIS — which now serves across Green Mountain Power's operations, engineering and customer service businesses — the utility expects to meet even higher performance standards.

Green Mountain Power is completing integration of its supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system with the Telvent (Fort Collins, Colorado, U.S.) Responder. This integration will enable real-time asset data to be fed directly to the outage management system (OMS) for all Responder users to view. This approach allows staff to pinpoint the device that is open before waiting for the field to confirm or even for the calls to come in. Staff will be able to efficiently dispatch crews to the correct locations the first time.

Currently, Green Mountain Power has 20 users of ArcFM and Designer, the graphic design application based on ArcFM, taking advantage of a full set of compatible units that connects with the customized estimating system. This integration standardizes and streamlines the design process by creating a job estimate without manual calculations or separate spreadsheet files.

Furthermore, each field crew truck now has a laptop computer with ArcFM Viewer, an extension that gives them the ability to see more detailed information. Soon crews themselves will be able to see the outage data from the OMS. This availability of real-time information will help to streamline work, from service calls to emergency responses.

The state of Vermont maintains a Web site showing all current outages throughout the state. Green Mountain Power developed the site, www.vtoutages.com, which allows utilities to either manually upload outage information or automatically upload from an OMS. Responder will automatically feed the site and provide real-time information for state officials.

Most recently, Green Mountain Power added a leading-edge customized application from ESRI (Redlands, California, U.S.) that interfaces the GIS with land-base files, renewable-energy data files, and wildlife pattern files to identify green zones, or areas of the state most suitable for wind and solar power generation.

This growth capability is what Green Mountain Power envisioned when it implemented the ESRI-Telvent GIS system. In a time when the energy environment is changing so quickly, this utility is very glad to have adopted a platform that offers such flexibility.