BETWEEN THE LINES: What does reliability cost?

Photo by John Sich

April 2021

By Gwen Kautz
Dawson PPD General Manager
gkautz (at)

What does reliability cost? It’s never big things that break us – it’s always the little things.

My adoption of “it’s always the little things” stems from scripture in which we are told “if I trust you with something small and you handle it well, I can trust you with bigger things.” I’m paraphrasing Jesus and I’m not sure if one can do that – but you get the picture. This is the single biggest step towards managing any company. Take care of what’s small and the big things will (mostly) take care of themselves.

Let me give you an example of “little things” as it relates to our distribution system. Look at the picture.

(#1) is called a “hot line clamp” (linemen call it a hot tap). It is a removable connection to the phase wire and costs $13.95 each. This lets linemen efficiently de-energize a section of line. A small thing multiplied by 82,502 in service on our lines.

(#2) is called a “cut out combination.” It’s a very important device that prevents power from moving down the line if a fault occurs. This device operates to protect the rest of the line in the event of a problem. These cost $127.82 each and there are about 27,800 of them on our system.

(#3) is called a “wildlife guard” and it’s a protective piece placed on the transformer to prevent birds from perching on them and possibly causing a power outage. We have about 90,000 of those on our lines at a cost of $4.80 each.

(#4) is called a 25 kVA distribution transformer – aka just “transformer.” The 25 kVA size is about average, but we have much larger ones that cost more. These reduce voltage so electricity can be safely moved into your house. Prices vary based on size. For simplicity, let’s count all transformers for Dawson PPD as 120/240 volt 25 kVA size at $898 each. We have about 30,500 of these on our system.

(#5) is called an AWG HXXW Compact wire, or “meter loop wire.” We have approximately 4,950,000 feet of this wire on our system and it ranges from 26 cents a foot to $1.11/foot.

(#6) is an Osmose Animal Guard, simply called the squirrel guard. It is designed to prevent animals from climbing to the top of our poles. For whatever reason, animals that climb our poles like to go clear to the top. When they get to the top, they usually come into contact with a piece of equipment, and that likely ends their little life, potentially causing an outage. About 23,200 wraps can be found on our poles which costs $19.99 a roll and covers about 4-5 poles.

(#7) Last but not least is the pole. This picture is of a Red Pine 40 Class 3 Pole – and depending on the job/location is a typical structure. Obviously, its job is to hold the conductor. We have poles of varying sizes but this one costs about $310. We have poles that cost upwards of $2,487 each (usually on the transmission side). In Dawson PPD’s system, we have about 90,000 distribution poles and 8,200 transmission poles.

Cost per itemEach of these pieces are “little things,” but they all add up to ONE HUGE THING: Dawson PPD’s electric grid.

That’s $76,157,798.90 just for the distribution poles and equipment needed to get electricity to you (if we had to rebuild the whole system from scratch today)! This number does not include the labor, fleet, equipment, licenses, tools, computers, offices, conductor, fuses, and insulators. I did not include overhead and underground conductor in this example. That’s a whole other topic.

These little things fail. Maybe not all at once, but eventually. Just one little thing failing on that pole can cause an outage. It’s always the little things that matter.

The point is, Dawson PPD customers trust us to take care of the small things, and we do. Those small things have created a bigger thing: You trust us to provide reliable, low-cost power – and we do. It all works together for good (another scripture but likely not quite the context Jesus meant.)

P.S. – I’ve worked here 25 years, and do you know what impressed me? Jerry Hobelman, our facilities/purchasing/fleet manager, and Nancy Davenport, our accountant, knew how much of what we have and where it is. We keep track of the little things because it all adds up.

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