Photo by NPPD.
Just west of the new training facility (top left) sits a 115kV substation (shown here during construction) that is used for training technicians. Parts from this substation can be used to replace parts on equipment out in the field if needed.

Nebraska Utility Invests in New Training Facility

Nov. 16, 2022
The multimillion-dollar facility enables Nebraska Public Power District to train on real-world scenarios in a controlled environment.
When it comes to ensuring reliable service to customers, the most important assets an electric power provider has are its employees, who are working to keep the lights on every day. It is vital utilities invest in the skills and knowledge of their crews who are working out in the field to maintain and repair the electric grid. Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) has embodied this approach by building a new training and maintenance facility at its operations hub in York, Nebraska, U.S.

NPPD serves electricity at the wholesale and retail level in 84 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. That includes 79 retail communities from across the state as well as 38 municipalities and 23 rural public power districts and coops through wholesale contracts. Located near the center of the state, the York operations center acts as the main base for the operations and maintenance side of NPPD’s business. The utility added the new US$4.2 million indoor facility on the south side of its operations center.

Completed in October 2021, the new facility not only meets the needs of the on-site maintenance team but also serves as a central location for line crews, substation technicians and other technical personnel located throughout the state. The 32,000-sq ft (2973-sq m) addition houses a 69-kV substation, one 69-kV line and a 115-kv H-framed line, so that new and veteran linemen can train on real-world scenarios in a controlled environment.

Training Improvements

Before the training facility was constructed, technicians were limited to training on the job or on distribution lines located on the York operations center grounds. This comes with two big disadvantages:

1. If a mistake occurs during training, it could cause an outage for customers.

2. Training is dependent on the weather.

With the addition of an indoor facility, technicians can learn year-round without potentially impacting customers.

The training facility is accompanied by a new 115-kV substation located just outside of the new building and an outdoor area with distribution lines and structures used previously for training. The distribution area has a complete underground residential distribution loop feed area that can be energized at 120/240 V for live training in troubleshooting scenarios. The facility also includes a large bay for training on new equipment and maintaining the largest equipment in NPPD’s fleet. The final piece of the new facility is a conference space that can be used for classroom training, safety walk-throughs and other meetings.

Real-World Scenarios

The outdoor substation is controlled by the same type of control panel as those NPPD technicians work with at substations out in the field. Using the same control panel makes it possible to customize each training scenario. The trainers can drill into any errors, which provides technicians with a complete understanding of how and why mistakes occur when they are working through a scenario. This approach helps technicians to operate more safely and efficiently in the field.

A training scenario example could include introducing a failed piece of equipment into the system and putting technicians in a situation where they need to troubleshoot and locate the fault. Ultimately, the various scenarios help to test the proficiency of technicians in a controlled environment and allow for making corrections in a safe setting. They also give technicians a chance to train on emerging technologies being implemented to modernize the electric grid. The control panel also enables crews to do live switching for recertifying both the substation and line technicians at the outdoor substation — once again, without the risk of putting customers in the dark.

The training facility is spacious enough for technicians to set up pulling vaults. Newer technicians can learn the proper technique and procedure for safely pulling in cable, in a situation where nothing is energized. A mobile battery bank also can be brought into the controlled environment, and technicians can work through the procedure of doing battery checks.

When it comes to live transmission lines, NPPD trains technicians in both barehand and hot-stick methods. In the early 2000s, NPPD technicians were trained on live transmission lines. Now, this scenario can be replicated in the training facility but in a controlled deenergized condition, improving the safety of the technicians.

The NPPD team also has begun hosting a personal protective ground class indoors at the facility, where trainers can watch technicians put on grounds in a controlled environment as well as climb poles and install ground under close observation. One of the biggest advantages of the new training facility has been conducting critical infrastructure protection training on a controlled system. Whatever scenario found in the real system can be replicated and implemented as a training scenario in the York facility.

Room For Equipment

The new facility helps to keep existing technicians highly trained. It also enables NPPD to provide high-level training to those who are new to the profession, giving the utility an edge when recruiting new line technicians.

When it comes to safe operation, NPPD has added another avenue to ensure crews are trained on how to conduct their work safely. The training facility was built large enough to bring in big equipment and test for safe operation. When introducing a new piece of equipment into NPPD’s fleet, a group of staff members is assembled from the various departments that will be using it. Members of the safety and performance team as well as the equipment dealer thoroughly walk through all the procedures that need to be implemented for safe and reliable operation of the equipment.

The training area can be used for hands-on testing and practice with the equipment, while the conference space — attached to the training facility and indoor substation — provides a great place to host presentations on the equipment and complete other tasks better suited for a classroom or conference room environment.

A Maintenance Bay

The new facility was built not only to house training equipment but also to house and work on the larger equipment inside the district’s fleet. On the north side of the training area is a large bay with two overhead cranes, or hoists, that can move back and forth along the entirety of the bay and fore and aft as needed, depending on the equipment for which it is being used. When it comes to the large digger derricks in NPPD’s fleet, they can be disassembled all within the walls of the new maintenance bay, using the large overhead cranes.

Prior to the new facility, NPPD’s crews would have to hoist the equipment off the back of a truck and drive the truck forward before lowering the equipment down to the ground. Using cranes has provided a much safer environment for crews to complete this work. This space also is used for inspecting large equipment, such as aerials and digger derricks, where the booms on the back of the truck can be extended out and inspected indoors, in the controlled environment. The bay also can be used for washing the fleet of equipment.

The maintenance bay also has provided a great space to receive and unload both small and large deliveries made to the operations center. For example, when receiving a delivery of trailers stacked on top of each other, they can be unloaded in a safe environment. This includes small equipment and bumper-pole trailers up to large flatbed semitrailers.

Most of the equipment ordered and used by the operations team is received and dispersed through this facility. When shipments of equipment and supplies are received, the maintenance bay is large enough that trucks can pull into the bay. Deliveries can be unloaded by forklift and taken to the storage area without having to go outside if weather conditions are not ideal.

In addition to completing maintenance and handling large deliveries, the bay also can house some of the large trucks used by the distribution and transmission crews if strong winter weather is expected to hit the area. That allows for crews to quickly respond to outages caused by bad weather, because the trucks and equipment are ice free, clean and in peak operating condition.

Serving Customers

Keeping the lights on is a central focus for how NPPD aims to serve customers. Having a facility that can keep the operations team prepared for what they will encounter daily, operating at a high level and training in a safe environment year-round is a major catalyst to achieving and maintaining that focus.

Scott Walz has worked at Nebraska Public Power District for 35 years and currently serves as the transmission and distribution, construction and maintenance manager. Walz has an associate’s degree in utility line from Northeast Community College as well as a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in business management from Peru State College. 

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