SDCEA Continues Work on Wildfire Mitigation

Integrity Tree Services work trucks and other heavy equipment are used on job sites. Consumers are asked to avoid work areas for their safety.

Sangre de Cristo Electric Association’s (SDCEA’s) systemwide vegetation management program is making headway, as crews continue to work to help maintain the natural beauty of our area and to improve the reliability of electric service to our consumers.

Clearing more than 700 miles of overhead line in central Colorado will be a very challenging project over the next few years.

“As these sections are completed, our communities are going to see huge improvements in wildfire mitigation as well as benefit from better service to our consumers. Trees in lines are also our number one cause of outages,” Chief Operations Officer Bryon Stilley said. “It can be slow work. But look at the terrain we’re working in. It’s rugged and it takes time.

Once a tree is cut and limbed in sections from a bucket truck, debris is fed in to a chipper, which feeds in to a dump truck. The chips are then hauled away.

“If SDCEA’s rights-of-way are clear, it also allows our crews safer, better access to the lines to make repairs and upgrades,” Stilley added.

Facing similar challenges to many employers in the region, hiring additional skilled crew members to work on the system also has also taken some time.

“We’re fortunate Integrity Tree Services (SDCEA’s wildfire mitigation contractor) was able bring on an additional crew in July. That crew is expected to work through October. One crew is expected to work through the end of the year, depending on weather conditions. We hope to achieve as much as we possibly can within our budget,” Stilley said.

Integrity, based in Michigan, is working on establishing a western region headquarters in the Buena Vista area. The company has employed five crew members working on SDCEA’s system and has several additional employees from out of state staying in the area until this fall.

Vegetation Management Project Updates

Chaffee County – St. Elmo, Alpine, & Chalk Creek areas

Skilled, time-consuming work and an investment in specialized equipment is necessary to safely clear lines of vegetation around power lines.

Integrity has been working from the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort west to St. Elmo from early this past spring and into July. The project is necessary for wildfire mitigation and is in advance of SDCEA’s work plan to rebuild much of the line in the area to increase reliability of service and provide Colorado Central Telecom access to the new infrastructure to provide fiber internet service to the area.

Crews have worked through challenging terrain and weather conditions throughout the project.

Northern Custer & Western Fremont Counties

Vegetation management crews from Integrity are now in western Fremont County and northern Custer County, clearing lines that serve consumers in those areas.

Also in advance of system service infrastructure improvements, the crew is focusing on a 19-mile section of line from Verdemont Road in Custer County, north along Highway 69 to US 50 via CR1A along Oak Creek.

The majority of consumers in western Fremont County are served by power delivered from the Howard Substation. All electric services from the Howard Substation are scheduled for wildfire mitigation by the end of 2021 dependent on terrain, weather and other factors that impact the rate of progress on the project. Consumers can expect to see mitigation crews working throughout the area this fall and into the winter months as weather allows.

Systemwide Inventory by Drone & Mitigation

A work crew clears line earlier this summer in Alpine.

SDCEA began an ambitious program in July to drone our entire electrical system. This project will help SDCEA develop better information about the infrastructure and equipment on the system, identify equipment that may need to be replaced or repaired, as well as identify sections of line with vegetation that poses an immediate threat of ignition. Drone flights will begin in Twin Lakes and southern Lake County, and will move south to Chaffee, Fremont, and Custer counties.

A smaller crew from Integrity will follow the drone to trim vegetation from lines as necessary. These efforts will not fully clear SDCEA’s rights-of-way in these specific areas but is designed to alleviate immediate threats of damage to lines or of ignition as those threats are identified. Work to fully clear rights-of-way in these areas will occur according to SDCEA’s long-term work plans.

Once work on clearing rights-of-way on services provided through the Howard Substation is complete, SDCEA’s work plan is to shift to northern Chaffee and southern Lake counties in 2022.