WAPA phases out Equipment Loan Program

Based on a recent evaluation by WAPA’s Assessment Team, Energy Services is sunsetting its popular Equipment Loan Program. The Assessment Team, which was established in 2017, has been studying WAPA programs and initiatives to ensure that they support WAPA’s mission and bring value to the customer. The evaluation concluded that the program had successfully accomplished its original objective of giving power customers the opportunity to test out expensive diagnostic tools that might help them with planning, operations and maintenance.

Diagnostic tools like the Sense Home Energy 3300 power monitor have become less expensive, more accurate and easier to handle than the monitors of even 10 years ago.

WAPA launched the Equipment Loan Program more than 30 years ago when diagnostic tools were often large, cumbersome and expensive. The price of an infrared camera, for example, used to run to several thousand dollars for a basic model. Now you can pick up a pocket-sized camera at Home Depot for a little more than $200. There are even apps you can download to take IR pictures with your cellphone. Likewise, anemometers and weather stations have come down in price so that entities on a tight budget—schools, small municipal utilities—can afford to purchase their own.

Keeping pace with the latest technology has also become a problem for the Equipment Loan Program. The technology behind the tools used to change more slowly, so the program could provide customers with state-of-the-art equipment, or close to it. Today, a new and genuinely improved model seems to come out every couple of years. Even with more affordable prices, updating the tool library becomes an expensive proposition. At the same time, customers often can buy the latest version of a particular tool without denting their own budgets.

These changes in the marketplace have led to a sharp drop in the number of customers using the Equipment Loan Program. At the same time, many of the tools have become outdated. Were the program to continue, bringing the library up to date would be costly. The decision to end the program saves about $177,000 annually—funds that can be directed toward efforts that offer customers greater value.

All of the existing loan requests have been filled and we are in the process of retrieving the equipment so it can be disposed of as federal law requires.

Going forward, WAPA customers will have to make other arrangements for their equipment needs. However, most of the diagnostic tools in the Equipment Loan Program library are readily available from local vendors for rental or purchase. Also, you can contact your regional Energy Services representative for suggestions on where to find tools.

Your support of the Equipment Loan Program over the years has made it a highlight of Energy Services. It has allowed us to meet our customers, learn about your unique operations and find solutions that improve safety, efficiency and occasionally your bottom line. As hard as it is to say goodbye to the Equipment Loan Program, we consider it a success to retire a program that has served its purpose and met your needs.

Equipment Loan champion retires

Western is pleased to recognize Darrel Iverson of the University of North Dakota You are leaving Western's site. as a pioneer in the use of infrared, or IR, thermography in the early detection and prevention of electric power system problems.

University of North Dakota Electrician Darrel Iverson shows off the Competitive Edge award he received from Western's Energy Services in 2003. Iverson is retiring in January.
University of North Dakota Electrician Darrel Iverson shows off the Competitive Edge award he received from Western’s Energy Services in 2003. Iverson is retiring in January.

First in line
Iverson, who retires in January as an electrician with UND Facilities Management, began using the IR cameras at the university nearly three decades ago to improve the reliability of its power distribution system. Customer Service Representative Jim Bach of Western’s Upper Great Plains regional office first introduced Iverson to the Equipment Loan Program in 1986. “The first time we saw an IR camera, we weren’t sure what to do with it,” recalled Iverson. “Then Western held a training class in Sioux City, Iowa.”

The facilities electrician quickly recognized the technology’s potential and became a member of the “First Dozen” club—customers who were among the first to borrow from the Equipment Loan Program. “As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to an electrical system, the IR camera is a godsend,” Iverson declared. “If you are not doing IR inspections, you are not taking care of your system.”

Problem solver
Iverson continued to keep up with the changing technology, from early cameras that filled two large suitcase-sized shipping boxes with necessary accessories to today’s thumb-sized cameras that attach to smart phones.

Throughout the years, each time Iverson borrowed a cameras from Western, he kept refining his inspection technique to protect his crew and the equipment. “One of the great things about the Equipment Loan Program is that every time Western got a new camera, I got to learn about new technology and share that with coworkers,” he said.

Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann recalled one particularly ingenious solution to inspecting the confined spaces of underground vaults and tunnels. “Checking electrical distribution systems in those places is potentially hazardous for workers because of the dangers of toxic fumes, flooding or fires,” said Hoffmann.

Iverson created a version of a bucket camera by mounting an infrared camera with a remote control inside a bucket with a hole in it for the lens. After testing the spaces to be inspected for toxic fumes that could cause an explosion, the inspector lowered the camera into the space by a rope tied to the bucket handle. The improvised rigging allowed the inspector to take pictures of vaults and tunnels without having to physically enter them.

“Darrel told me once that he tied the other end of the rope around his back and shoulder. If he accidently dropped the camera into the vault, he wanted the rope to pull him in with it,” said Hoffmann. “That way, he wouldn’t have to explain to us how he smashed our camera.”

Iverson often provided Energy Services with copies of reports on potential problems to share with other Western customers so that they could learn from his experiences. His desire to educate led him to persuade the university to sponsor one of Western’s infrared training workshops in Grand Forks in 2011. The utility representatives who attended the workshop learned a great deal about the uses of IR cameras and inspection techniques from Iverson’s extensive experience.

In 2003, the Energy Services program recognized his dedication with Western’s Competitive Edge award for commitment to specific energy-efficiency or renewable energy projects or programs.

Iverson has worked with many Equipment Loan managers—Gary Hoffmann, Rich Burnkrant, Jim Bach—and, “They have all been great to work with,” he said.

The Energy Services staff feels the same way about Iverson. He was a true ambassador for the Energy Services program and for best practices in energy use. We have enjoyed working with him and learning from him with each loan. Darrel Iverson is the kind of person who makes us look forward to doing our jobs every day.

Free webinars cover thermography basics, more

(Photo by Infrared Training Center)
(Photo by Infrared Training Center)

For anyone who is new to IR cameras or who needs a refresher, the Infrared Training Center (ITC) is offering free live and on-demand web courses.

These educational sessions provide a convenient and informative way to learn more about one of the most useful and versatile tools in an energy manager’s kit. Topics cover tips and tricks (presented July 22, access it from the on-demand list), thermography basics, safety, software basics, capturing and interpreting thermal images and much more. Each webinar is 45 to 60 minutes in length, and the live events include a question and answer session with participants. The speakers are top industry experts.

Need to know
These events are presented from locations around the world, so the start time given is the local time. Be sure to double-check the start time and time zone when registering. If the webinar occurs too far away from your time zone, you may have to wait for the on-demand recording. See ITC’s webinar FAQs to learn more about scheduling and system requirements.

Many training options
In addition to the webinars, ITC also offers online course packages and four-day regional training courses for certification.

For busy novices to energy auditing and diagnostics, ITC webinars can provide a valuable foundation for your infrared inspections. The price is right for experienced technician who just want to brush up on the basics and maybe pick up some new tricks. There is always something more to learn about the world of thermography, and no better way to do it than from your our desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone—for free!

(Editor’s note: If you haven’t yet discovered infrared cameras and all they can do for a utility, contact our Equipment Loan Program, 720-962-7420, to learn more.)

Source: Infrared Thermography Center, 7/16/15

Proactive infrared inspections keep ED2 customers cool in desert summer

(Artwork by Electrical District No. 2)
(Artwork by Electrical District No. 2)

Keeping the lights on is a year-round responsibility for power providers, one that sometimes means braving extreme weather to make sure the distribution system can handle the strain of a peak. Whether it is January in central Minnesota or July in Arizona, you will find Western customers inspecting their lines with infrared (IR) cameras borrowed from our Equipment Loan Program to protect their customers from potential power outages.

Electrical District No. 2 Redirecting to a non-government site (ED2) in Phoenix, Arizona, is as “summer-peaking” a utility as they come, and each year since 2001, the maintenance department has borrowed an IR camera. “The loans probably go back further to the ‘pre-database’ times,” observed Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann. “Some of our customers are as consistent as the seasons when it comes to scheduling loans, and ED2 is one of those utilities.”

The linemen of Electrical District No. 2 in Pinal County, Arizona, are dedicated to the thorough inspection of their electrical system. (Photo by Electrical District No. 2)
The linemen of Electrical District No. 2 in Pinal County, Arizona, are dedicated to the thorough annual inspection of their electrical system. (Photo by Electrical District No. 2)

“Yearly inspections keep the malfunctions from piling up,” acknowledged Lineman Steve Heet, who recently took over inspections from Lineman Dewayne Hill.

Heet borrowed the Mikron 7550 thermal camera to inspect all of ED2’s overhead lines. “We pay special attention to the capacitor banks, regulator banks and switches, but basically, we are looking at everything,” he explained. “Underground transformers and bushings are on our schedule this year, too,” Heet added.

Crews take out the camera at night and inspect the line from a service truck, recording hot spots to be repaired during the day. And how hot do hot spots get in the desert in the summer? “I think 340 degrees is our record,” said Heet. “Typical hot spots are around 180 degrees and above.”

A recent inspection uncovered a couple very hot substation blades that could have resulted in 1,000 customers losing power. “A short, scheduled outage for repairs—even in the summer—is much easier for customers to manage than an unexpected event,” Heet stated.

Avoiding surprises is, after all, the whole point of a proactive maintenance program. Don’t wait for the next hot summer day to find out if your system is cooking up an unpleasant surprise. Contact the Equipment Loan Program at 720-9627420 to borrow an infrared camera. A few minutes of quick inspection can save hours of headaches for you and your customers.

Stearns Electric crew braves cold, inspects distribution system

[All photos by Stearns Electric Association.]

Western customers are the best when it comes to keeping the lights on, rain or shine, as the Stearns Electric AssociationRedirecting to a non-government site maintenance crew demonstrates.

Each winter, Operations and Maintenance Supervisor Glen Kemper borrows an infrared (IR) camera from our Equipment Loan Program and leads his crew on an inspection of one-fifth of the cooperative’s distribution system. January may not seem like the ideal time to be doing outdoor maintenance in central Minnesota, but, “That’s when the crews are free,” acknowledged Kemper.

Junction boxes house energized conductors, which provide above-ground access points to the underground electrical distribution system. Stearns maintenance crews often have to dig the boxes out of the snow to perform their annual IR inspections.
Junction boxes house energized conductors, which provide above-ground access points to the underground electrical distribution system. Stearns maintenance crews often have to dig the boxes out of the snow to perform their annual IR inspections.

The Rural Utility ServiceRedirecting to a non-government site and National Electric Safety Code requires that Stearns inspect its underground system regularly, a practice that gives the utility a chance to find and repair deteriorated connections that could cause outages if they failed. Kemper chose the Flir E60 for this year’s inspection because it is lightweight and easy to use. “And you don’t have to look through the viewfinder,” he added.

“The viewing screen on the Flir E60 can be manipulated so you can see it from different angles,” explained Gary Hoffmann, program manager for Western’s Equipment Loan Program. “The camera is WiFi-enabled too, so users can see the image on their pads or smartphones.”

Those features allow the crew to set up shots in the tight spaces of the junction boxes and take a few quick shots of “elbow” connectors that terminate the energized conductors. “Then we close up the box and move on to the next one. It takes less than a minute, so we aren’t exposed to the elements for that long,” Kemper pointed out. “Except for the cold weather, it’s a piece of cake.”

This infrared photo reveals the excess heat coming from a loose elbow connection. If the connection was allowed to burn through completely, all Stearns members served by that connection would lose power.
This infrared photo reveals the excess heat coming from a loose elbow connection. If the connection was allowed to burn through completely, all Stearns members served by that connection would lose power.

A good thing, too, since the temperature hit a low of 15 below zero with 20 mph winds during the most recent inspection. One picture of a hot connection in a three-phase module shows a temperature range of minus 6 degrees for the hottest spot, where the connection has deteriorated, to 40 below for the coldest spot. “That low temperature might be a reflection of an object rather than the actual object, but it is all cold,” declared Hoffmann.

The inspection turned up about a dozen elbows or three-point connectors that needed to be replaced. Kemper noted, “Typically, there is a lot of heat load on the system in the winter, so it is easier to see where the problems are.”

This failing elbow arrester was one of several the maintenance crew found and replaced during their inspection. Elbow arresters dissipate excess voltage, typically caused by lightning strikes, before the surge reaches a customer’s home where it might damage electric appliances.
This failing elbow arrester was one of several the maintenance crew found and replaced during their inspection. Elbow arresters dissipate excess voltage, typically caused by lightning strikes, before the surge reaches a customer’s home where it might damage electric appliances.

In addition to regularly borrowing IR cameras from the Equipment Loan Program, Stearns also borrowed the fuel cell demonstration kit. “We set up at an annual member meeting.” Kemper recalled. He added that the staff experimented with the educational display in the office too, but the co-op has no plans at this time to add fuel cell generation to its mix.

The distribution cooperative will continue to borrow the cameras for its annual system inspection and other maintenance projects, however. Members rely on Stearns Electric to keep their homes comfortable throughout the year, and Kemper knows he can rely on Western’s Equipment Loan Program to provide specialized tools to keep his system in good repair.

Free webinar focuses on infrared camera uses

October 16
12 noon CDT

Clean Energy Ambassadors continues its Lunchtime Webinar Series with Infrared Cameras: Strengthen Your Utility’s Energy Efficiency and Auditing Programs Redirecting to a non-government site.

It is no secret that we at Energy Services are great believers in the value of this tool to utilities. Infrared cameras can help detect line loss and substation malfunctions, and they play an important role in successful home energy audit programs. Gary Hoffmann of Western’s Equipment Loan Program will join camera manufacturers to discuss how IR technologies can improve your operations and customer service. You’ll also find out about opportunities to for Clean Energy Ambassadors IR workshops in your area.

Register for this free event today. Please contact Stevie Moe at 406-969-1040 if you have any questions.

Join Clean Energy Ambassadors Redirecting to a non-government site on the third Tuesday of each month for candid, informal discussions on the needs of consumer-owned utilities. Webinars are held from 12-1 p.m. Central time (11 a.m.-12 p.m. Mountain).

IR workshop comes to Rocky Mountain Region

[Editor’s note: This story appeared in the July 2012 Energy Services Bulletin]

It seems like some regions get to have all the fun, playing with state-of-the-art infrared (IR) cameras and learning about all the ways the diagnostic tool can save energy and money for utilities and their consumers alike. Well, Western’s Energy Services doesn’t play favorites—we are teaming up with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and Clean Energy Ambassadors to give Rocky Mountain Region (RM) its very own IR camera workshop on Aug. 8.

Nathan Wilcox of FLIR instructs attendees at the Billings, Mont., workshop in the finer points of interpreting IR photos. (Photo by Clean Energy Ambassadors)

United Power in Brighton, Colo., is hosting the workshop in its Civic Room from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and it promises the same information- and action-packed day our Upper Great Plains customers enjoyed at the April workshop. “We appreciate United Power offering the use of their facilities for the workshop,” Said RM Energy Services Representative Bob Langenberger. “It’s a good central location for many Western customers and Tri-State members.”

“Tri-State has always made an effort to provide its member systems with the tools and programs they need to help promote energy efficiency,” explained Tri-State Marketing Coordinator Ron Ebenkamp. “Recently, several of the Tri-State member systems expressed interest in an IR camera workshop, so we decided to team up with Western to offer training.”
A busy day
As with previous IR workshops, we have invited speakers who have a wealth of experience in thermography and camera uses. FLIR and Fluke are providing the equipment for the hands-on training portion of the workshop, along with case studies of how utilities used the cameras to detect line and substation loss. And as always, Gary Hoffmann, Western’s Equipment Loan Program manager, will be on hand to remind participants that the program gives them the opportunity to test drive different camera models.

One of the reasons the IR workshop is so popular is that we tailor the agenda to focus on issues unique to the region. The Rocky Mountain perspective on IR camera use is being provided courtesy of Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association.  Energy Use Specialist Gary Myers will present the customer service side of thermography use during energy audits, while Operations Manager Glen Livengood will cover the Poudre Valley’s plans to use IR cameras to maintain its distribution system.

Member Services Manager Myles Jensen said, “Poudre Valley has benefitted from IR camera inspections for many residential and commercial audits, and for some distribution equipment inspections. I think our case study will give workshop attendees a new appreciation and understanding of what an inspection program can do for their utilities.”

The big attraction, however, is the hands-on training geared to participants’ individual experience. Attendees will conduct inspections on selected facilities, learn tips for more effective audits from the pros and print out reports at the end of the day. The workshop wraps up with a question and answer period to help attendees address any issues that came up during field training.

Don’t wait to register
In short, the day-long workshop is a crash course on one of the most versatile diagnostic tools available to energy professionals, and all this knowledge can be yours for $100. The registration fee covers class materials, and continental breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack. Meals and breaks will also give you time to network with your colleagues, talk about your own IR inspection program or ask someone else about theirs.

The last workshops drew big crowds and space is limited, so early registration is recommended. Download and fill out the registration form, and fax it to Stevie Moe at 866-484-2373 with your check or money order made out to Clean Energy Ambassadors. The form includes hotel suggestions if you are coming from out of town and need lodging. You can also email Moe with questions, or call her at 406-969-1040.

Finally, if the Rocky Mountain Region IR workshop sounds great, but is too far away for you to attend, contact your Energy Services representative about scheduling an event in your area. As we said, Energy Services doesn’t play favorites—we want all our customers to discover the benefits of IR cameras.

Utilities discover versatile, cost-saving tool at IR workshop

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the March 2012 Energy Services Bulletin.

It is no secret that we here at Energy Services are big fans of the infrared (IR) camera—our Equipment Loan Program offers several models, the Energy Services Bulletin covers stories about its innovative uses and we urge customers who are not familiar with the technology to learn about it. You will have that opportunity April 5 at Infrared Thermography: Hands-On Training for Utility Systems and Customer Service Applications (link to flyer), in Billings, Mont.

Western is co-sponsoring the event with Montana State University at Billings (MSUB) College of Technology and Clean Energy Ambassadors (CEA). The agenda targets utility professionals who are interested in performing building audits, as well as those who are looking for a more efficient way to maintain their electrical systems. The cost to attend is only $125 because “We wanted to make sure that the workshop is affordable,” explained CEA Program Manager Stevie Moe. “The IR camera is such a versatile tool, it can save money on utility operations and program development. That can really benefit smaller utilities in particular,” she added.

The registration fee includes class materials as well as meals and snacks for one day. “People will need their energy because they’ll be doing more than just sitting and listening to presentations,” said Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann.

What to expect
Hoffmann will be at the workshop to introduce participants to IR cameras available through the Equipment Loan Program. Our equipment library recently added two new cameras with more capabilities. The cameras’ higher resolution enables users to spot smaller problems on transmission lines and substations from greater distances. Both models take digital and infrared pictures that can be easily downloaded to show to maintenance personnel and facility owners.

After participants get a look at the cameras, representatives from FLIR and Fluke will talk about how to use them. One case study will show how IR cameras were used to detect line and substation loss, and a second presentation will focus on the equipments’ industrial applications.

Hands-on experience
But the real fun comes after lunch, when participants break off into groups for field training. Moe recalled that some utilities brought their own IR cameras to the workshop in North Dakota last year. “But those were older models,” she said. “I think everyone really enjoyed getting to ‘play’ with the latest technology the manufacturers provided.”

The field training took participants around the University of North Dakota campus to inspect the electrical system, heating plant, dorm rooms and a substation. “It was a pretty fast-paced session,” said Hoffmann. “The groups were made up of only two or three people, so everybody got a chance to use the different cameras in different situations.”

The day will conclude with the groups downloading images, running reports and interpreting the pictures they shot in the field. Participants will come away with not only a working knowledge of camera operation and data interpretation, but also with ideas for integrating IR cameras into utility programs.

Why attend?
Those who went to the 2011 IR camera workshop found plenty of ways to apply what they learned, said Moe. “Participants told us about using the cameras on their power systems, and on utility buildings as well as on customers’ homes and businesses,” she noted. “Some utilities have found that IR images are great tools to educate consumers about weatherization.”

The workshop is also intended to educate the next generation of utility professionals. MSUB is hosting the event in hopes that students from its industrial and energy programs will attend. “The students at MSUB are interested in science and technology, but they may not have thought about working in the utility industry,” said Moe. “This is a good opportunity to reach out to them by letting them work with the technology currently being used in the industry.”

And for those already working in the industry, the technology is becoming more accessible every year. “IR cameras keep getting less expensive, smaller, lighter and simpler to use,” Hoffmann said. “Utilities don’t have an excuse for not checking out the equipment and seeing what it can do for them.”