Customer Satisfaction the Right Way: Using Spacer Cable to Top J.D. Power and Associates Survey

The Northern Virginia Electrical Cooperative has been able to score well above the national average and better serve its customers by utilizing high-reliability spacer cable systems from Hendrix Wire & Cable

It's a set fact for utilities that although the population continues to expand, the earth doesn't. The United States population is growing rapidly, and many electrical utility companies are already feeling the expansion. As metropolitan areas spread into the suburbs, and the suburbs spread into formerly rural areas, electrical utilities find themselves needing to serve more customers, with higher reliability, over either the same or a smaller footprint.

The Northern Virginia Electrical Cooperative (NOVEC) has made a real stride toward achieving these objectives. Ranked by J.D. Power and Associates as the highest in customer satisfaction among midsize electric utilities in the South region, this not-for-profit utility has found innovative ways to serve a rapidly expanding population over the same right-of-way. By utilizing high-reliability spacer cable systems from Hendrix Wire & Cable, NOVEC has been able to score well above the national average and better serve its customers.

A Growing Problem
NOVEC is located just outside of the Washington, D.C., metro area, covering about 650 square miles of territory and serving around 150,000 customers. "Normally, you'll find a co-op in a rural area," said Hank Zarandi, senior planning engineer at NOVEC, "and we used to be a rural cooperative, but that's quickly changing as the metropolitan area just keeps growing into our service territory." The D.C. metropolitan area is already the seventh-largest in the country, with the third-highest growth rate of any metropolitan area in the U.S. "The population is growing so fast, we're becoming more municipal than anything else," continued Zarandi, "Our density right now is around 21.52 consumers per mile."
As the population expands, space becomes a real premium. "Right-of-way is the critical point of operation here," said Zarandi, "We cannot acquire any more right-of-way. We just have to use what we have. We could go underground, but that would really limit our capacity. We would rather go overhead, but in the normal configuration of a bare wire system, we can only fit 2-3 circuits.
"There are also many areas where we cannot remove trees and plant growth," he continued, "whether for aesthetic or environmental reasons. In these areas, we were struggling with more frequent outages, because whenever a storm blew through, it would knock down trees and branches that would affect our systems."
According to Zarandi, these outages become more costly and affect more homes as consumer density increases. NOVEC wanted to address both of these concerns. Said Kent Cassell, manager for procurement, materials, and facilities at NOVEC, "We have two important applications: (1) to increase the capacity of the loads that we serve; and (2) the toughening of our system in critical areas where we don't want to lose power."

A New Solution
Seeing the problem at hand, Zarandi suggested using spacer cable as a solution. "As a company, Hendrix was not foreign to us," said Cassell, "We had been using their underground products for a number of years. But Hank [Zarandi] brought the spacer cable product to our attention."
Designed to minimize the impact of the root causes of outages on overhead distribution systems, Hendrix spacer cable systems consist of multiple layer covered conductors supported by a high mechanical strength messenger. The conductors are arranged in a compact configuration that allows electric utilities to place multiple circuits on a single pole and therefore utilizes a smaller right of way footprint. Additionally, the compact configuration yields a higher voltage performance and the use of a messenger can allow for longer spans.
"At my previous company, we had utilized spacer cable," explained Zarandi, "It was a very useful product. When I came on at NOVEC, one of my first projects involved right-of-way. We wanted to add new circuits on lines that were already built. When I heard how limited the space was, I immediately thought of spacer cable. In a normal bare wire system configuration, you are limited to 2-3 circuits per pole. With spacer cable, you have the opportunity to add a lot more. We even have some lines with six circuits now."
Spacer cable came up again when NOVEC needed to build a new substation with four circuits coming out of it. "We only had a single existing phase line, and we could not acquire any more right-of-way," explained Zarandi, "so we had to put all four circuits on the same pole line. And nothing else would allow us to do that but spacer cable."
Spacer cable not only addressed right-of-way issues, it also helped NOVEC increase overall reliability. There were also many areas where NOVEC needed to keep the plant and tree growth intact. "Once we changed to spacer cable in these areas, we saw a real decrease in outages," said Cassell. "In one storm, a spacer cable messenger held a broken tree limb and kept the lights on for our customers."

A Solution for Everyone
In addition to appreciating the product itself, NOVEC found the staff and service at Hendrix Wire & Cable to be a real asset for reaching their goals. "We're not a big company," explained Zarandi, "We do not have a large group of specialized technical people at our disposal. Hendrix's service was great in that respect. They helped us divide up our pole line, do the calculations...You can't put a price on that service. That's why we chose them. There are other companies that can give us the product, but not the customer service."
"Their support is paramount," agreed Cassell, "They actually come out with a bill of materials that allows me to purchase the items, and the accuracy has been just top-notch. I've never had any problems with shortages of materials or anything. We're able to do the job as designed, and get the components and the conductor installed without any problems."
This service is a point of pride with Hendrix Wire & Cable, which was founded by the inventor of spacer cable, Bill Hendrix, in 1951. "Industry-wide, we have the most spacer cable experience because our company founder invented it," explained Jason Smolko, regional sales manager at Hendrix, "We know that for many companies, this is a new and different product, so we take pride in having that additional experience and strong support in our engineering and service capabilities. We have a full support team of engineers that is always with our customers every step of the way, to ease their concerns and work with them through the process."
"I would like other small companies to know that they can install this innovative product," said Cassell. "With Hendrix's help, you don't need to overburden a small staff. Even a once-rural cooperative like ours can take this step and really work toward improving and maintaining reliability with spacer cable."
The results don't lie. Thanks in part to spacer cable, NOVEC has not only met the standards for reliability despite an ever-growing population, it has exceeded them.

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