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PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2011 2:34 am 
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A lot of preppers plan to move out of the city into rural areas as part of a plan to eventually go completely off the grid, and I thought I would post a little bit of info on how to deal with REMC's and what to expect from them.

As far as my background goes, I have been involved with REMC's (on the dispatch side) for almost 4 years now as a phone rep, dispatcher and floor supervisor. It gives me a unique perspective on disaster preperations and I wanted to share some of what I know with ZS. I'm not an electrician so I have no special insight in that area, but I know how crews are dispatched and the majority of this post will be about that side of the business.

So what is an REMC? REMC stands for Rural Energy Management Co-op. Not all REMCs use the REMC acronym and they are often known by other names. The basic difference between an REMC and a major energy provider like Duke or IPL is that most REMCs do not generate power at a power plant; instead they buy power from the major providers that is transferred through metering points to your local grid and then take over maintenance of the lines for far flung rural areas. Many REMCs are structured along co-op lines but not all of them are; if your bill refers to you as "Members" rather than customers then you have a cooperative REMC. The differences are minimal.

One of the first problems we encounter here on the call center side is that a customer doesn't actually know who their power company is. A lot of time, you'll get somebody that just typed REMC into their smart phone and called the first number they got, assuming all REMCs were part of one monolithic group. Yes, astonishingly, people write large checks to companies that they do not know the names of every month. Folks, I know I'm preaching to the choir here on ZS but keep a copy of your bill in your power outage supplies. It will have the number and account information that will make finding your location easier and will be in handy "dead tree" reference form for when you are looking up the info by candelight.

Building off that point, make sure you keep your account information up to date. When you are talking to the rep on the phone, they will be searching for your account in a database as that will include their map numbers (more on this in a moment) so if you change your name or your phone number without telling us it will take us longer to find you and thus, longer for you to be restored. This also includes your medical information-folks, if a CPAP or an O2 concentrator is the only thing keeping you alive, you need to inform your power company! Almost all REMCs have "priority accounts" but you have to ask for it and usually fill out a form to activate it, sometimes with a doctor's note. If it looks like a long outage in your area and your priority account, it is not uncommon for linemen to be dispatched out there with a generator to loan you, but folks, let me tell you-when the power goes out, suddenly every person has a critical medical condition that requires a steady flow of power and there is no way to verify it if there isn't a pre existing note on the account.

Now, on to a more practical point-how are these guys finding you? Most REMCs use map locations rather than street addresses, typically based off some variation of Line X Pole YY. You don't usually have to know your map number but it is sometimes helpful if you do, in case we can't find you in the database. If you have multiple meters on your property, say for a workshop, a grain bin and your residence, become familiar with the meter number. The meter number is usually on your power meter somewhere and is most often just a short series of numbers, and it becomes important if something happens out at your irrigation pump but power is fine at your house. These numbers are on the bill sometimes, but if not you can almost always find them on the meter. Choosing the wrong meter has led to some pretty severe cock ups in the course of my career, so make sure if it is humanly possible.

So, now you are wondering "Why does my %*#% power go out so much and stay off so long? It never went out like this when I was on Municipal power!" This isn't a practical point as I have no wiz bang solutions for this (real) issue but it is something you are going to have to live with if you are on REMC. Folks, the distance these lines are running is easily five or six times greater (sometimes more!) than it is on municipal power, and that is the cause of both of these issues. Put simply, larger area = longer outages, as the crews have longer to go to the problem and more lines to run looking for the interruption than they would on the relatively short lines you have in the city. Also remember that some of the crews are navigating insanely difficult terrain for these outages-I once had a Michigan crew that was calling around for a canoe to borrow so they could get to some lines down in a partially frozen swamp. As far as outage frequency, more line across more distance in a more rural area is going to mean more outages-each seperate section of line is vulnerable, and more points of vulnerability = more outages. There is no way in heaven or on earth that this is going to change. Be prepared for more frequent and longer outages if you are going to live on REMC. (A side note-I don't do billing, but I would hazard an educated guess that this is why your bill is higher than you think it should be as well.)

And now you are going "Sure, BTT, you ugly bearded degenerate, all of this is technically REMC info, but how do I get my power back on faster?" Isn't that the most relevant question of all? Well, there isn't a huge amount I can do for you here, but I do have a couple of pro tips that might help.

First off, CALL. You'd be amazed at the number of people that think 'Well, my neighbors will call' or 'I'm sure their Jurassic Park viewscreen will report my outage' or any number of other silly things that means they don't call. We don't know about it if you don't call, so call. Most REMCs take calls 24/7/365, so report it sooner rather than later. You might even get to talk to me, and everyone knows how pleasant that is.

Second, if you see or hear something that might indicate the cause of the outage, report it to the operator you are speaking with. Examples include trees on the line, lines down, blown transformer fuses (listen for a loud boom; these fuses blow with gunpowder, it sounds about like a 12ga), vehicle accidents, lightning strikes and any sort of arcing (visible electric discharges from lines or poles) can all be indicitave of a cause. You'd be amazed how much faster it is when I can say to my crew chief "Yeah, the guy at GF 17 P54 said he saw a fried raccoon doing the Sing-Sing dance on the transmission line across the road" instead of "Yeah, the outage in this area somewhere." It cuts the whole "running the lines" portion of restoral down and that can be the longest part for some outages.

Third (and this is strictly a call center side issue) stay on the line when you are holding, rather than getting the hold music and hanging up. Most of the time calls Queue up in order and every time you hang up you get shuffled to the back of the deck.

Finally, check your breaker, for reals meng. The crews love going out on these calls; they step in, flip the customer's main, and charge them a fat service fee because REMC responsibility technically ends at the meter. Does it make your power come on faster? It does if you have a tripped breaker-it takes the outage time down to however long it takes you to walk down into the basement. Many mobile homes have breakers on the inside and outside on the meter pole (other homes too, but it is most common for trailers.) Remember, if a crew is dispatched on a non REMC problem, they will charge you a fee of anywhere from 50 to 300 bucks, so check your breaker before you call.

I hope this post was helpful to those of you considering taking the leap into rural living. I'll be adding more later, including a charming list of "Don'ts" that I am currently taking the venom out of.

_________________
From The Codex Kalachnikova: "He who would have you surrender your arms does so because he wishes to do something you could prevent by their usage."
Last Call, Last Stand - The Crystal Menage - SF in Babylon - REMC Guide


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 30, 2011 6:26 am 
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The REMC 10 Commandments

10) THOU SHALT NOT TAMPER WITH THE METER - They will come out and disconnect you and bill you for the work as well as for the meter itself. Any money you think you are saving will be taken back with interest, believe me.
9) THOU SHALT KNOW WHEN TO CALL AN ELECTRICIAN - REMC responsibility ends at the meter and there is nothing they can do for an issue inside your house. The crew will come out and test the voltage at the meter and inform you that there is nothing they can do for you.
8) THOU SHALT CALL IN YOUR PARTIAL OUTAGE - Sometimes people think that low voltage or flickering lights are non issues that don't need to be reported and occasionally they are right. But sometimes it is and the line is slowly heating up and burning through and you end up with a huge outage that could have been prevented if it was caught in time.
7) THOU SHALT NOTIFY THE CALL CENTER IF YOU SEE ANYTHING UNUSUAL IN THE LINE - Even if you have power, it is sometimes very helpful to know about a limb on the line or a fricasseed squirrel or whatever. The ideal goal here is outage prevention, rather than restoral.
6) THOU SHALT NOT RUBBERNECK - A bunch of people watching a live wire flop on the ground or gawking at the EMS crew or parking their cars right in front of a broken pole can be both a health hazard and a delay. Report the scene and then stay the hell away from it as best you can. As a side note, don't go around harassing the crew because you feel like the power has been out too long. You are not helping.
5) THOU SHALT PAY THE EFFIN' BILL - Nothing delays the dispatch of other, valid emergency calls like a disconnected account who refuses to understand that there is no right to electricity for people whose accounts are forwarded to collections-and you could be delaying the call of someone with a real emergency.
4) THOU ART WELCOME TO BRING COFFEE AND DONUTS - A lot of older folks still do this but it is a dying practice these days. The crew usually appreciates coffee and donuts if you see them out and about. It isn't required, but a nice gesture goes a long way and is typically remembered.
3) THOU SHALT NOT CREATE A PUBLIC SCENE IF YOU SEE THE REMC CREW EATING BREAKFAST IN A DINER - Crews switch out, they go on mandatory rest time, they stagger their areas to arrange for breaks. For god's sake, please don't corner a crew in the local diner and scream at them because your power is not back on. In general, you have no business harassing them (or me) just because they are driving off, either-it is possible they just went back for parts.
2) THOU SHALT KEEP YOUR TREES IN GOOD REPAIR - Trees are perhaps the number one cause of outages; even in a storm the majority of damage is from falling limbs. Keep your trees trimmed back and notify your power company of any major cuttings that need to be done on public roads, and you will reduce your outages signifigantly. The reason outages are so common in trailer parks? Because a lot of the time, no one is taking care of the trees.
1) THOU SHALT REPORT THINE OUTAGE - Again, the most common cause for a delay in restoral is because no one called. File the report. Unless you are having a breaker issue and refused to check it, no one is going to bust your balls because you called in an outage. We don't have any way of knowing automatically, so make sure that someone knows there is an issue or it will never be fixed.

_________________
From The Codex Kalachnikova: "He who would have you surrender your arms does so because he wishes to do something you could prevent by their usage."
Last Call, Last Stand - The Crystal Menage - SF in Babylon - REMC Guide


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