Decades have passed since electric cooperatives brought light to the rural parts of North Dakota. In the mid-1930’s, nine out of 10 rural homes in America were without electricity. By 1953, more than 90 percent of U.S. farms had been electrified. That was a long time ago, and as every day goes by, fewer and fewer members remember what it was like when the electric cooperative improved their lives by bringing light to the farm. It meant they no longer had to depend on kerosene lamps and wood stoves to accomplish daily tasks.
In this bygone era, members were grateful that they were able to get service from an electric cooperative and had certain expectations about price and reliability. Today, those expectations are decidedly different. Today’s member not only expects the lights to come on when they flip the switch, they expect the power to stay on so electronics, computers and high-tech devices work properly. This expectation we believe is very reasonable.
A high level of reliability is one of the main objectives cooperatives strive for in today’s market. Outage minutes are tracked and statistics with acronyms like SAIDI (system average interruption duration index) and ASAI (average service availability index) are used to compare system performance with expectations. When we compare Nodak’s ratios to other cooperatives in the U.S., we fare very well in these areas. Last year, our average member saw service disruption for 107 minutes out of a total of 525,600 minutes available in the year. This is less than half of the average interruption of 230 minutes other cooperative members across the U.S. saw last year.
Looking at it a little differently, our members had power available to them 99.98 percent of the time (ASAI), which places Nodak among the highest performing one quarter of U.S. cooperatives. That statistic in itself is something to hold out as a success story, but when you look at it a little deeper, the significance is apparent.
It’s important to first think about what causes disruption in service. Most frequently, outages are caused by things like trees contacting a power line, wildlife getting somewhere they shouldn’t be, equipment failure, storms, etc. The co-op’s exposure to these kinds of disruptions is proportional to the number of miles of line we have, the age of our system and how well the system is maintained.
At the end of last year, Nodak had 7,932 miles of power line in service. Out of the 814 electric cooperatives in the U.S., Nodak ranked No. 40 in terms of total number of line miles. The median value for all U.S. cooperatives was only 2,602 miles, or roughly one-third as many as Nodak. With more than three times as much line exposed to the elements as the average cooperative, one could assume that our service interruption would be much higher than average, yet it was less than half.
I don’t point this out to boast about Nodak or pat ourselves on the back. I bring it up to show that we take the issue of reliability very seriously and despite the enormity of the task at hand, we do a pretty decent job of keeping the lights on as compared to other electric providers.
Our reliability track record is something we are proud of, but it is an area where we continue to strive for improvement. Service interruptions can be just a nuisance for those of us who have to reset a digital clock now and then, or they can be something very serious for someone with a medical condition or a business with sensitive computer-driven machinery. All these are reasons we work hard to deliver power with a reliability level that meets our members’ expectations.
Some interruptions are largely beyond our control, so there’s not much we can do but keep our fingers crossed hoping Mother Nature will be kind to us. What we can do is continue to commit resources for maintenance and constantly improve our system to minimize the outages we can do something about. That is something we will do.