Piecing together a puzzle in the middle of a hectic moment can be unnerving, but SCADA Transmission Operations Supervisor Cody Kirk and his team are up for the challenge 24/7, 365 days a year.
With the use of a computer program called SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), Kirk and his team are able to monitor, assess and control the transmission and distribution grid for the third largest municipally owned electric utility in Texas. Lubbock Power & Light’s system includes over 108,000 meters, 4,936 miles of power lines, three power plants and 38 substations.
Think of SCADA like a puzzle. During situations, SCADA is helping to piece together all the missing pieces to see the completed picture or solution.
“With SCADA, we’re able to collect, analyze and visualize power flows on circuits and other data from field equipment,” said Kirk. “We also use other programs such as the Outage Management System to manage distribution outages and non-outages, such as setting up new meters or responding to fire and police department calls when a vehicle hits any electrical equipment.”
Kirk, a Lubbock native who has been with LP&L for almost a decade, was working in the Business Dispatch department when a large citywide outage occurred during a storm. Due to the severity of the circumstances, the SCADA department enlisted the help of Kirk and other Business Dispatch team members to assist in managing outages.
That moment launched Kirk’s interest in SCADA. He found his calling in solving complex problems during intense events and was eager to continue in this career path, leading to his current position at SCADA.
“I enjoy the chaos. During a power outage, SCADA allows us to make sense of the 20 or 30 moving pieces in real time to pinpoint where the problem is,” said Kirk. “We’re immediately notified when a power outage occurs, which helps us reduce response times and restore power more efficiently for customers.”
It is no walk in the park to get inside the control room. Just to become eligible for an operator position, individuals must have completed a 12-month, self-paced North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) training and pass the certification exam. Since the certification only lasts for three years, operators must maintain it by continuing education hours each year.
Additionally, LP&L requires internal training to be an operator on the local grid. This program is broken up into three phases: SCADA basics, Dispatch and Outage Management Systems. Each phase takes about six weeks to complete.
“Because of the nature of the work, operators must work well under pressure, be detailed oriented and capable of making educated decisions based on knowledge of the electrical system and what they learned in the NERC certification program,” said Kirk.
In May 2021, Kirk and his team played a large role in connecting 70% of LP&L’s system (approximately 83,000 customers) to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The interconnection of LP&L’s system to ERCOT was the first for a municipally-owned electric utility in Lubbock’s history and the largest in the state in the past 25 years.
“Although North American power grids operate at a frequency of 60hz, the phase angle may not be in sync with another grid. At no point can you tie two AC power grids together that are not in sync,” said Kirk. “This was one of the reasons that LPL had to create power outages to transfer customers over to ERCOT from Southwest Power Pool.”
Over the span of two days, the operators successfully moved the majority of LP&L’s customers into ERCOT. The average outage time was 16.6 minutes.
Outside of solving daily puzzles to ensure customers have power, Kirk spends his free time relaxing on fishing trips and exploring parts of the world he’s never seen before.