The August, 2020 derecho caused extreme damage in Eastern Iowa. Anyone in its path knows full well that the electrical grid was not spared when category 4 hurricane force winds blew for the better part of an hour across much of the state. The top priority for utility companies had to be restoring service to the more than 500,000 households and businesses in the state. Help from outside the state sped the process of recovery but the experience cast a spotlight on the need for improvements to the electrical grid to address more frequent and more extreme storms.
“We need to reduce impact and increase speed of restoration and recovery during extreme events,” said Jim McCalley, professor of power systems engineering at Iowa State University. His statement neatly summarizes the Iowa Climate Statement, released by a coalition of some 223 scientists and researchers across 34 Iowa colleges and universities following the storm.
At MidAmerican, the cost of recovery combined with the input from scientists prompted company engineers to formulate a plan to harden the grid in the areas they serve. Recommendations included increasing the structural strength of transmission and distribution lines, moving lines underground where flooding is not a risk, and diversifying the power supply by adding microgrids, expanding generation technology, and increasing transmission lines.
It's a major job, to say the least and, while replacing utility poles is a routine task for MidAmerican, hardening the system in a timely fashion called for help beyond their available staff. One of the key tasks in adding strength to the grid is the installation of upgraded poles and lines. New poles need to be placed precisely and that's where MMS came in.
The MMS drone survey crew started working with MidAmerican in the summer of 2021 to precisely document the location of more than 28 miles of above ground utility lines. It was the first phase of a three-phase process that will extend into 2022. The use of the drone has helped the process move quickly, augmenting the excellent efforts of MidAmerican's in-house crews.
It's impossible, of course, to know when the next inland hurrican might blow through. But it is good to know that steps have been taken to keep more Iowans plugged in and turned on when it does.