After Hill Country farmers and ranchers, including then-Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson, met in 1938 to incorporate Pedernales Electric Cooperative, about 3,000 local families paid membership fees to sign up for electric service.
Eighty years later, we’re serving more than 300,000 active accounts — and with the Hill Country in the midst of a population boom (according to Forbes magazine, two of the 10 fastest growing counties in the country are in our service territory), we see no signs of slowing down. Managing this extraordinary growth is a definite challenge, but it’s one our experienced staff steps up to day after day. We’re expanding, upgrading and reinvesting in our infrastructure to ensure our electric grid can keep pace with the rising demand of today and tomorrow.
System maintenance and metering
“When you go from 200,000 to 300,000 accounts in just 13 years, you really have to think consciously about how you’re growing and how you’ll continue to grow,” PEC Operational Support Director JP Donley said. “For us, that means constantly refining processes, looking for more streamlined approaches and applying technology where it makes sense.”
Looking to the future, Donley expects we’ll better support the growing needs of our membership and electrical system needs by refreshing our technology: namely, upgrading our meter management system from a powerline carrier, electromechanical solution to a wireless, solid state metering solution. The new Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system will include the capability to automatically report, and in some cases predict, outages by monitoring the system’s behavior.
“That’s really the impact of growing that big,” Donley said. “You need to keep up with the technology to support the growth.”
See the human side of metering: Retired PEC employee Rhonda Stell’s career traced the evolution of the cooperative’s metering. Read the story »
System voltage conversions
One of the most substantial contributions to supporting PEC’s growth, said PEC Operations Program Manager Michael Hansen, is system voltage conversions.
Conversions upgrade our system capacity to higher voltages, enabling us to put less strain on the system. These intensive operations take an enormous amount of time and energy to coordinate, with planning often spilling over years and involving hundreds of staff members and contractors. Ultimately, they save the cooperative money and increase our reliability, allowing us to serve more members from the same electrical equipment. They also allow us to create backfeed capability — the ability to reroute power to our members in the event of an issue, which helps our members experience less time in the dark.
“It’s not just the 300,000-account mark — it’s that we don’t see an end to this growth,” Hansen said. “Many cooperatives have a plateau in sight. We don’t have a forecast for ever plateauing.”
As of October 2017, the entire Kyle district has been successfully upgraded, capping off a decades-long process of planning and work. Read the story »
Distribution, transmission and pole changeouts
PEC Director of Engineering Paul Lochte’s team is actively engaged in upgrading our distribution feeders. By increasing the amount of power our system is able to distribute to our members’ homes and businesses, we decrease the strain on our equipment and overloads on the system due to increasing demand. We’re also able to introduce more and better backfeed capabilities.
“We’ve also got a lot of projects in this year and the next few years to upgrade the transmission system,” he said, including increasing the capacity of some transmission lines and changing out old poles.
Learn about the year-round program that keeps our wooden distribution poles standing strong. Read the story »
Careful planning when building new electric lines
As a designer in our busy Kyle district, PEC Electrical Distribution Designer Ricky Hess and his team are responsible for determining where new power lines go: a balancing act of today’s needs with tomorrow’s potential ones. As a result, Hess and his colleagues are careful to plan routes that allow them the opportunity to build on later. Because with this amount of growth in the Hill Country, it’s no longer safe to assume that any new installation is the end of the line.
“Whether we’re designing utility lines for overhead or underground, we try to design a line that is accessible and will allow us to extend to the future next-door neighbor’s project,” Hess said.
Learn how we decide where lines go. Read the story »
A lot has changed since we first flipped the switch to light up the lives of our first 3,000 members, but the important things haven’t. We’re still owned, led and staffed largely by members of our own community, and we work hard every day to bring you reliable, safe power at a low cost. We’re proud to power the Hill Country’s growth. Let’s keep growing bigger and better together.
For more stories about growth and reliability, visit us at pec.coop/news.