SIKESTON - Sikeston's Board of Municipal Utilities hasn't achieved perfection yet, but is performing well when compared with other power companies, according to BMU officials.
"Typically we do better than the national average for the number of outages and, especially, on our response times and returning service times," said Wayne McSpadden, operations manager for the Sikeston Board of Municipal Utilities.
BMU tracks major outages, according to McSpadden, which he defined as outages which affect at least one-fourth of the town.
"We don't have that many major outages - we typically average one outage a month or so but then we will go several months without any," he said.
These are usually incidents in which one of the distribution substations goes offline. "That's when we will lose a pretty good chunk of the town," McSpadden said.
Smaller outages are often weather related when trees get into distribution lines and cause a fault, tripping protection circuit breakers. "Then we have to go and clear that fault and restore services," McSpadden said.
Either on-duty or on-call dispatch crews respond as soon as any outage is reported so getting service restored typically takes 30-45 minutes.
"Occasionally it's down longer than that, but very seldom," McSpadden said. "We do it as quickly as we can."
Sikeston's performance statistics are "pretty exceptional for a town our size," McSpadden said.
"Last year, for example, our average service availability index improved from 99.93 percent to 99.98 percent," he said. "That tells us our system is available for service almost 100 percent of the time, which is good."
Another statistic the power plant tracks is the system average interruption frequency index which measures the average amount of time a customer is interrupted during a specified time period. "Two year ago that was 6," McSpadden said. "Last year it was 3.4 interruptions per year."
McSpadden said the customer average interruption duration index for the power plant has also gone down. Two years ago it was 64.7 minutes, "and we cut that down to 26 minutes over the last year."
While AmerenUE and SEMO Electrical Cooperative also track performance data they were not as ready provide their numbers as the BMU.
"Our corporate policy is we don't divulge that information," said Mike Cleary, communications executive for AmerenUE.
He explained it isn't that the company is being secretive, it's just that power companies record and track data in different ways. "It's absolutely apples and oranges," Cleary said. "There's no standard method of recording that information."
For example, "We exclude major storms because that is something that is out of our control," Cleary said. But then, even the definition of what a major storm is can vary from company to company, he said.
"Those numbers can be highly distorted," agreed Reuben Jeane, general manager for SEMO Electrical Cooperative. "We use a different base on ours, a different methodology to compare."
Figures can also vary due to the type of service area, Cleary said. "As there are fewer customers per mile in rural areas, the same kind of component failure in an urban area can affect many more customers than the same failure in a rural area," he said.
Performance figures are valuable to companies in establishing baselines to compare against themselves.
"We've spent a lot of time and effort over the last few years to improve the reliability of our system by doing things like tree trimming and also we've installed animal guards, squirrel guards and things like that on our equipment to prevent outages by animals - primarily birds and squirrels," McSpadden said.
BMU's system now features dual power feeds into each substation, according to McSpadden. "We got that implemented last year," he said. Now if one feed is interrupted, the substation may continue providing power with the other feed.
While a power system is "a mechanical system subject to outside influences," McSpadden said, BMU is working to keep that system running as well as possible. "We're always working to improve the reliability of our system, trying to get that up to 100 percent on service availability."
Replacing the older distribution lines, for example, "will enable us to carry heavier loads on the system," he explained. "Our load continues to grow as the city grows, so our lines need to be able to handle that."
Cleary said if someone is concerned about the quality of service they are receiving from AmerenUE, they can contact the Missouri Public Service Commission as AmerenUE is regulated by the PSC.