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SRP center ready to catch monsoon power failures before they happen

(Photo: Arizona DEQ camera)

PHOENIX — All Arizonans know the feeling: A huge monsoon is rolling through town, you’re sitting on the couch enjoying a good movie and then it happens.

The power goes out.

Not only are you left sitting in the dark, but you’re without air conditioning, the refrigerator won’t stay cold forever and you have no idea how long it will be until the power is back.

But staff at the Salt River Project Performance Monitoring Center, located near 65th Street and Thomas Road in Scottsdale, are hoping to avoid some blackouts in the first place.

Though it’s impossible to predict power lines being ripped down by winds or a transformer being hit by lighting, the center works as a diagnostic to prevent as many problems as possible.

The center monitors the utility’s generating plants as far away as Page. Its job is to catch most problems before they happen.

Andy Johnson, an engineer at the center, said some potential problems are known about months in advance thanks to General Electric software that tracks and analyzes turbine, generator and other equipment performance.

“This gives the plants time to schedule when they want to address those issues,” he said. “They can schedule when the load requirements aren’t so high and they can ramp down generation, address the issue and come right back up.”

The software sends alerts when equipment deviates from predicted operating norms. The system is so sensitive to changes in equipment performance, Johnson’s team can often catch things that operators wouldn’t be able to figure out.

“Imagine being able to monitor your car as you go down the road, being able to have someone tell you what could break down or what’s causing it to run less efficiently,” he said of how the center works.

While it’s hard to determine how much money the preventive diagnostics have saved SRP since the center’s creation in 2011, some estimates place it in the millions.

Johnson pointed to an overheating fan at one location as an example. The center caught the problem and crews were able to repair it quickly. Had the system gone down, hundreds of thousands of dollars in generation could have been lost.

Johnson said his team — and SRP in general — is ready for Arizona’s upcoming monsoon season.

“The monsoon can come through and wreak havoc on our systems,” he said. “And, luckily, we have fantastic crews that go out and deal with these situations as they occur.”

KTAR’s Jim Cross contributed to this story.

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