Powering Life’s Essentials | OEC News

Proudly serving Central Oklahoma’s most reliable electricity — and now internet services — for 87 years

By Brianna Wall

Since Winter Storm Uri and the rolling blackouts of 2021, the electric grid and its complex features have taken center stage. News stations reported on capacity concerns, the Southwest Power Pool became a household name, and legislation attempting to avoid another similar crisis became the most discussed topic at Capitol buildings across the nation. 

Never has reliability been more important. 

OEC’s board of trustees and leadership have long prioritized reliability, setting a strategic plan into motion in 2017 that would drastically reduce the number of outages our system experienced, as well as our outage restoration time, over the following decade. This meant investment in efforts like vegetation management and system upgrades — and a commitment to adopting and deploying innovative technology to support our efforts. 

Enter OEC Fiber.

How OEC Fiber Applies Groundbreaking Technology in our Reliability Efforts

It has been well documented that OEC Fiber — known today as the most affordable, reliable option for high-speed internet in OEC’s service area — was born from our mission to improve reliability for our electric members. By owning the fiber communication across our electric system, we could enhance grid reliability and resilience while minimizing downtime and inconvenience for our 48,000 member-consumers. We call this project Adaptively Controlled Electric System (ACES), and it represents a pivotal shift in grid management strategies of the past.

“Unlike traditional systems, ACES boasts adaptive control mechanisms that dynamically reroute power during major outage events, minimizing service disruptions and maximizing reliability,” explained CEO Patrick Grace. “The impact of ACES on member satisfaction and outage statistics is nothing short of remarkable. Over the past two years, areas served by ACES have witnessed a staggering 70% reduction in outages compared to non-ACES regions.”

OEC’s commitment to enhancing grid resilience doesn’t stop here. Recognizing the transformative potential of ACES, OEC is steadfastly working on expanding the project’s reach to benefit more members across its service area.

“By extending ACES to additional regions, OEC aims to further bolster reliability standards and fortify its infrastructure against potential disruptions,” Grace said.

How Reliability Impacts Members

Prior to OEC’s strategic reliability initiative, members in 2016 were without power for an average of 129 minutes. Compare that number to 58.4 minutes in 2023 — that’s an average of less than one hour without power per member for the entire year, a pretty remarkable feat compared to other utilities. 

“OEC’s score of 58.4 places us in the top 18 percent of most reliable electric co-ops in the nation,” Grace said. “It also takes into consideration the outage time due to our generation and transmission provider, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative. If we were to only look at the outage factors we can control, that number drops to 48.5.”

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission reported investor-owned and municipality-operated utility scores have a two-year average of 107 to 164 — 83-180 percent higher than OEC’s score.

The number of outages members experienced also dropped dramatically, from 1.9 outages per year in 2016 to just 0.7 outages per year in 2023, a reduction of 63%! 

How We Continue to Improve Reliability

What caused the outages that did occur in 2023? In short, weather events caused the majority of power interruptions, specifically lightning strikes.

“Oklahoma consistently ranks in the top five most lightning prone states,” said Nick Shumaker, manager of system engineering. “Over the last seven years, we have made significant improvements in our lightning protection equipment across our entire system. Thanks to our investment in this area, our outage time per lightning strike has been reduced by an incredible 90% since 2015.”

Vegetation management also plays a large role in providing safe, reliable electricity. Our efforts to alleviate trees and brush in our lines help our system withstand Oklahoma’s unpredictable weather. Because trees offer environmental and energy efficiency benefits, we encourage the safe planting of trees in a mindful location in conjunction with our infrastructure. Visit link.okcoop.org/treeplantingguide to download our free tree-planting guide and explore our other resources.

All of our efforts culminate with one mission: to improve your quality of life with the safe delivery of highly reliable, reasonably priced electric and fiber internet service. In an age where uninterrupted power supply is paramount and access to high-speed internet is expected, we hope you rest easy knowing we are powering your life’s essentials.

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