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 Top 10 stories of 2013

A glance back at 2013 reveals a year dedicated to safety, reliability and planning for the future. As an agency and as part of the Department of Energy, we also saw leadership change at the highest levels. Taking into account all the various milestones, events, progress and achievements, here are the top 10 stories of 2013:

10 Western participates in nationwide security exercise: Western, along with more than 200 utilities and government agencies, participated in an exercise Nov. 13 and 14 that required collaboration to respond to large, coordinated cyber and physical attacks against the nation’s electrical grid. The exercise—called Grid Exercise II, or GridEx—is put on by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation to test our ability to respond to security incidents and to reveal where improvements are needed in local, regional and national grid security programs. About 40 Western employees participated and were inundated with email describing the simulated incidents. During the two days, utilities experienced and had to respond to cyber attacks against critical software systems as well as simulated physical attacks on critical infrastructure in each region. Shortly after the exercise ended, the players, planners and senior managers met to debrief and discuss initial observations and lessons learned.

9 Bar codes simplify reporting, inspections: Western has been putting bar codes on its property for more than a decade. In 2008, while preparing for a North American Electric Reliability Corporation audit, DSW began installing bar codes on communication and meter and relay assets to ensure accurate records in Maximo. As of July 2013, DSW had more than 10,750 active protection and communication assets barcoded and tracked, bringing the region to about 97 percent complete with the barcoding project

The region began barcoding substation assets in 2012 and is expected to finish as early as June 2015. These efforts support the ever-increasing requirements for regulatory reporting and increase efficiency by incorporating the use of mobile devices.

8 Electrofishing: Western engages in many studies to be sure dam operations do not negatively affect fish populations in the surrounding area. This year, during the spring and summer, Western employees participated in two “electrofishing” events, where large quantities of fish, mostly trout, were safely “stunned” so they could be tagged, measured, weighed and scanned. These studies are important as Western works to ensure the value and capacity of hydropower while protecting fish populations and endangered species.

In April, Colorado River Storage Project Fish Biologist Jerry Wilhite joined the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources on the Green River, just below Flaming Gorge Dam, to sample fish populations and determine if there had been any negative effects on them from the winter season. Over two nights, they sampled almost 1,000 fish. In July, CRSP Fish Biologist Craig Ellsworth spent 21 days on the Colorado River between Glen, Marble and Grand canyons to determine the effects of dam releases on the downstream fish populations, especially the endangered humpback chub. His group caught and recorded several thousand fish, which supported work on two separate projects—Natal Origins and Juvenile Chub Monitoring—that help the Bureau of Reclamation determine if there is reason to remove trout from the river to protect the chub.

7 Fall protection: In March, Western hosted a train-the-trainer fall protection course and invited representatives from Bonneville Power Administration and Southwestern Power Administration to participate. More than 50 linemen, electrician and communication craft workers gathered in Henderson, Nev., to learn about new industry fall protection standards, such as 100-percent attachment on wood structures. The first day was spent in the classroom and the second day was spent at Mead Substation completing self-rescues and also rescuing a 180-pound dummy named Rescue Randy from transmission poles, transformers and communication towers. The trainers then went back to their respective regions to train and certify their coworkers.

6 Security responds, ramps up: 2013 was a big year for Security as it separated from Safety and then went through a realignment. Amid those organizational changes were some operational feats as well.

In May, Security procedures were tested when Rocky Mountain’s Loveland, Colo., office had a bomb scare. In July, Security informed Closed Circuit readers of its collaboration with the intelligence community to share information to identify potential attacks and reveal otherwise unnoticed behavior patterns. In August, Security announced the deployment of a newly commissioned custom-built security trailer. The trailer, designed and built by National Nuclear Security Administration’s Special Technologies Laboratory, can travel throughout Western’s diverse territory and collect information that can be used to deter theft and vandalism at our most vulnerable sites. It can also collect information to help build a case to prosecute thieves and vandals, as well as keep crews safer by alerting them when unsafe conditions exist.

5 Western answers Mother Nature’s calls: Mother Nature was the biggest story of 2012 and also makes this year’s list. Crews work year round responding to all kinds of system issues, but weatherwise, the last half of the year proved to be especially challenging.

  • Late in July, lightning struck a conductor on the 230-kilovolt Currcantito-Lost Canyon line outside of Placerville, Colo., causing the waterdamaged conductor to break and fall into the San Miguel Canyon. Accessing the tower was difficult; combined RM crews worked through treacherous conditions to repair the damage while being mindful of environmental concerns as well. The line was restored to service Aug. 6.
  • In September, Colorado experienced unprecedented flooding, which affected RM’s Sterling Substation near Sterling, Colo. Floodwaters washed away many roads, making damage assessment difficult and dangerous for numerous state agencies and utilities. Western offered aviation support to those in need. Helicopter pilots spent two days flying city planners, police and fire departments over areas affected by the Poudre River flooding. Despite the damage, Western’s system remained operational and never needed to be de-energized to protect equipment.
  • In October, Upper Great Plains had to repair damage when tornadoes and blizzards struck on the same day in Iowa and South Dakota, respectively. The tornadoes destroyed seven H-frame structures while the blizzards took out 26 of the same type of structures. Customers in South Dakota lost power for about 26 hours. By Oct. 17 all damaged transmission line segments were repaired.

4 Secretary Moniz visits HQ: In September, Department of Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz made an impromptu visit to Western’s Headquarters in Lakewood, Colo. He offered an update about the Department’s efforts to support the President’s Climate Action Plan and gave context to the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy. Secretary Moniz then spoke about the power marketing administrations’ important role in providing affordable and reliable energy. Afterward, he took questions from Western employees and encouraged employees to be thinking about and plan for what the system will look like 15-20 years from now.

3 Asset Management takes big strides: Asset Management efforts were ramped up in 2013 so Western can better meet its obligations to customers, DOE and the public Western began integrating best practices from the Institute of Asset Management, which will create a more data-driven, risk-informed and well-coordinated program overall. The Asset Management Program Improvement Project progressed, completing the foundation to track, monitor and analyze asset condition and consequences of failure. AMPIP Project Manager Don Roberts has met with Western customers in every region to educate them on the project with great success. Moving forward AMPIP will continue to reach out to customers and is currently focusing efforts on implementing the various practices and equations so Western can rank assets based on risk.

2 Western’s new administrator selected: After almost a year without a permanent Administrator in place, Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman swore in Western’s sixth Administrator, Mark Gabriel, April 19 at Western’s Headquarters in Lakewood, Colo. Gabriel expressed enthusiasm and gratitude for the opportunity, outlined his priorities and vision and shared his goal to meet every employee and customer during his first two years on the job. Gabriel’s priorities are streamlining operations, building on relationships, creating a sustainable future, safety, planning for the future of the industry and a focus on the basics, such as reliability, security, quality and a satisfied workforce.

1 Western launches roadmap initiative: Powered by a desire to define what Western will look like and what role it will play in the energy industry in the future, senior managers launched the strategic roadmapping effort June 20. To begin, employees and customers were asked to complete a survey and some were interviewed. Next, the roadmap consultant NewGen sought input from many groups, including the generating agencies, to get their input on the energy industry landscape of the future. After NewGen presented results to senior managers, the second phase of the roadmap initiative began with workshops and the “Stop Doing” exercise. Results are still being compiled; the final roadmap is scheduled for release and implementation late in spring 2014. Chief Strategy Officer Theresa Williams shared, “A strategic roadmap helps create line of sight between Western’s vision and strategic planning, capital budgets, initiatives, operating plans, annual targets and performance.”