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Power Line Inspection and Safety



All electric utilities, municipally owned utilities, or electric cooperatives that own or operate overhead transmission or distribution lines in the state of Texas are required to provide information to the public about the safety of their overhead equipment. In May 2019, the 86th Texas Legislature enacted House Bill 4150 that created reporting requirements regarding power line inspection and safety for these entities. The focus of these reports is on the vertical clearance and safety of power lines and safety training provided to employees.

To implement the requirements of HB 4150, the Commission adopted a new rule in February 2020. Certain entities are now required to file up to three new reports, as discussed below: annual reports, five-year reports, and employee training reports.

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Annual Reports

Every year, each electric utility, municipally owned utility, or electric cooperative that owns or operates overhead transmission or distribution facilities in Texas must file a report on the safety of those facilities. Those that operate overhead transmission equipment at 60,000 volts or higher must report the existence of non-compliant vertical clearances on their systems. Additionally, those that operate overhead transmission equipment or distribution equipment at more than 1,000 volts must report injuries and fatalities associated with non-compliance and the steps taken to prevent recurrence in the future. The annual report is due May 1st each year.

Five-Year Reports

Every five years, each electric utility, municipally owned utility, or electric cooperative that owns or operates overhead transmission facilities at 60 kilovolts or higher in Texas must report the percentage of its transmission system that has been inspected for compliance with the National Electrical Safety Code's (NESC) requirements for vertical clearances. They must also report the percentage of their system anticipated to be inspected in the next five-year period. Electric utilities, municipally owned utilities, or electric cooperatives that solely operate distribution facilities are not required to file this report. The next round of reports is due May 1, 2025.

Training Reports

Each electric utility, municipally owned utility, or electric cooperative that owns or operate overhead transmission or distribution lines in Texas is required to provide summaries of the training programs that it uses to instruct personnel on hazard recognition and compliance with the clearance and construction requirements of the NESC. They were required to file this one-time report on May 1, 2020. Additionally, they are required to file updated reports within 30 days of any material change to their training programs or documents.

Annual Reporting Results

There are a total 162 different utilities that own or operate overhead transmission or distribution facilities in the state of Texas. Staff categorized compliance metrics as follows:

  • On time, complete: filed complete reports by May 3, 2021.
  • Late, complete: filed complete reports but after the May 3, 2021 deadline.
  • Deficient: no filing made or filed incomplete reports either on time or late.

Compared with the annual reports for calendar year 2019, Commission staff achieved a higher level of compliance for the CY 2020 annual reports. Approximately 20 more utilities filed their annual reports on time and correctly; correspondingly, there was a close to 80% drop in the number of late filed but correct reports. There were a similar number of deficient reports filed this year as compared with last year.

Chart of Reporting Compliance Metrics

Of interest, embedded within these compliance metrics was the number of utilities failing to submit a complete report - whether on time, late, or not at all - in both reporting years. There were eight utilities that had failed to submit reports for both 2019 and 2020. Commission staff focused its enforcement efforts on these utilities, and is pleased to report that as of August 30, 2021, 100% of required entities had filed all outstanding annual reports.

Substantively, now that there are two years of data to compare, staff presents its first analysis of line inspections and safety. The rule requires utilities to report known or identified instances of overhead transmission facilities that do not comport with National Electric Safety Code vertical clearances. There was an 80% increase in the number of known instances of noncompliance as compared with data provided in the 2019 reports. The statute requires reporting only for instances of noncompliance with construction-year standards.

Chart of Known and Identified Noncompliant

In 2020, utilities reported 488 known instances of noncompliance, with 360 not meeting construction-year standards and 115 meeting NESC standards at the time of construction but not the current standards adopted in 2017. The remaining 13 occurrences relate to lines owned by a third-party utility that do not meet vertical clearance standards and are attached to poles of another utility. Remediation of the 360 occurrences is reported to be either planned or underway. One utility responsible for 90 of these occurrences reports that many span waterways specifically identified in PURA § 38.004 and has committed to remediating all these water-crossing, noncompliant facilities by the end of calendar year 2021. No completion date for the remaining facilities was required to be provided in the annual report.

Chart of Known noncompliant

In 2020, the instances of identified noncompliant largely mirror the instances of known noncompliant. This may be a result of misunderstandings of the intended meanings of the "known" and "identified." Staff understands "identified" to mean "reported to the utility" and "known" to mean "verified noncompliant by the utility." Utilities may be double reporting occurrences that were reported to the utility and subsequently verified noncompliant by utility personnel.

In the 2020 report, there were 356 reports of identified noncompliance. One hundred thirty-one of those were reported as known noncompliant last year, and 216 were reported in in the known noncompliant category in this year's filings. Because there is overlap between what is known to be noncompliant and what has been identified as noncompliant, several utilities report the same instance of noncompliance in both categories. From this, we can infer that there are on the order of 500 reported known instances of noncompliance with vertical clearance standards, understanding that a plurality of these were reported even though they meet the statutory clearance requirements.

The final section of substantive analysis relates to injuries or fatalities due to noncompliant overhead distribution or transmission facilities. In each of 2019 and 2020, one injury or fatality was reported.

In 2020, a worker not certified to work near overhead electric facilities was injured when his boom truck was electrified by a nearby 7,200-volt distribution line. Fortunately, the worker was treated at a hospital and released the same day. The utility identified the overhead facility as not meeting vertical clearance requirements and remediated the issue. The utility then inspected 100% of its distribution system looking for other instances of noncompliance with vertical clearance standards. They found three and remediated all of them.

HB 4150 Section 6 Compliance

Section 6 of House Bill 4150 required all utilities owning a transmission line or distribution line over a lake listed in PURA § 38.004(b) to bring into compliance any of those lines that do not meet the NESC construction-year vertical clearance standard by December 31, 2021. Commission staff opened Project No. 52667 to receive reports from utilities attesting to the status of compliance with this requirement. Fifty-two utilities filed an attestation by the due date of January 14, 2022, of which 79% reported all lines were in compliance.

Chart of Percent with Noncompliant Lines over Lake

Of the 11 utilities that reported some lines over lakes were not incompliance, half reported 7 or fewer lines out of compliance. The greatest number of lines out of compliance reported was 83.

Bar chart of the number of utilities

Commission staff is reviewing each of these utility's compliance plans to ensure all lines over lakes meet the minimum vertical clearance requirements as set forth in Section 6 of HB 4150.