Line crews keep county plugged in

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Responsible for maintaining more than 3,400 miles of power lines, Socorro Electric Cooperative crews have their hands full fixing streetlights, replacing poles, installing meters — and occasionally, responding to outages.

Jon Rejent — El Defensor Chieftain: Jacob Ortiz, with the Socorro Electric Cooperative, fixes a security light Monday afternoon. The co-op’s line crews are responsible for maintaining power lines, replacing damaged infrastructure, responding to power outages and more.

On Sunday night, line crews responded to a blackout in the Chaparral area affecting about 100 customers.

SEC Line Supervisor David Montoya said the reason for the outage was simple — a breaker needed resetting. He said the co-op was alerted of the outage at 8:43 p.m. and by 10 p.m. the power was back on.

Montoya, who manages a full-time staff of 19 linemen, said a crew was sent out as soon as SEC received the first call.

“They had to patrol the main line and then came back and reset the breakers,” he said.

The SEC crews use a small fleet of vehicles and specialized equipment to maintain the system. Regardless of what causes an outage, Montoya said line crews must physically check the lines – depending on the location, they can be miles from the nearest road or highway.

SEC General Manager Joseph Herrera said finding the reason for an outage can be time consuming.

“If someone has lost power, we (won’t) know why … until we get out there and patrol the lines,” he said.

If co-op members have any information – including what they may seen or heard — Herrera said it’s important that they let the SEC know.

“The more information we have, the quicker we might be able to get the power back on,” he said. “If they see a flash or see a wire down, it can save us a lot of time getting the power back on.

Otherwise, he said, SEC crews “have to look at every pole, every transformer, every insulator.”

Montoya said if one customer calls reporting an outage, then crews start at one substation and work their way out, checking the poles. But if there are multiple calls in the same area, he said it gives the co-op “a good idea of where to start.”

Another brief outage occurred Friday when a tractor backed into a pole.

“Human-caused outages do not happen very often,” Montoya said. “Power lines are mostly affected by birds and wind.”

He said when the lights blink in Magdalena, it’s usually caused by the pigeons. But occasionally, the crews will come across “bigger” problems.

“We’ve had animals climbing the poles – bobcats, mountain lions and bears,” he said.

And he said sometimes, it’s just wear and tear on the infrastructure that causes an outage.

Herrera said regardless of what conditions are like in the field, safety for the linemen is his top priority.

The public will have a chance to meet the linemen during the co-op’s upcoming annual membership meeting April 26 at Finley Gym.