Thinking back to 1993 when I began working at Cullman Electric Cooperative, a lot has changed about how we do our jobs, but the principles of providing safe, reliable electricity remain the same.
When I started, we owned bucket trucks, digger derrick trucks, and specialty trucks for substation work. For the most part, we operate the same today with this type of equipment but with a few more accessories.
In the 1930s, rural electric cooperatives were formed employing a team of engineers to use best management practices, physics, safety, and national codes to create pole construction specifications for line-workers. We still follow that “best practices” philosophy. In fact, many of those original REA specifications are still used today as the basis for constructing and maintaining strong, reliable structures that deliver energy to co-op homes and businesses.
Mapping the electric system has been a challenge over the years. Long before I started working here, linemen could direct you anywhere on our system using landmarks — a certain house, church, or business, or where those things used to be. We migrated to large, cumbersome map books and finally to computers in each Cullman EC vehicle. Our linemen, contract crews, and crews from other utilities during mass outages utilize our computerized maps to locate structures on our 3,500 miles of high-voltage and 1,224 miles of secondary lines. Crews can locate a single line or one of 92,000 poles from the database.
Today’s electric system utilizes more sophisticated relays, operating three-phase fault-protection equipment coupled with downline breakers and fuses, compared to yesterday’s system. Overall the system is built and still operates as it did 85 years ago.
We currently have more than 258 miles of underground lines with crews extending these daily to new meters on our grid as Underground Residential Distribution (URD) have become a common request from Cullman EC members. Although advances in insulating materials and termination assemblies have improved, the underground electric system functions as it did many years ago. New developments in tools and equipment make our jobs easier and more efficient, but we still rely on the basic principles of how electricity is generated and distributed to the end-user.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is the transmission provider for the Cullman EC system and has been since our electric system was first built. The TVA sub-transmission voltage of 161,000 volts supplies line extension taps to 11 of our 17 substations. Cullman EC owns and operates over 100 miles of 46,000-volt sub-transmission lines to serve the remaining six. Cullman EC owns and operates all 17 of its substations with plans in the very near future to convert most of them to the TVA supplied 161,000-volt lines. As the demand for electricity continues to increase, Cullman EC will receive more electricity from TVA, build new substations, and extend its lines — the same way we have for the past 85 years.
Yes, our utility has certainly changed over the years. But in many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Written by Wade Yarbrough- Manager of Operations & Field Services at Cullman Electric Cooperative. Featured in the April 2021 Cullman Electric Cooperative Alabama Living.