Episode 42: The Relationship Between Cycle & Reliability in UVM w/ Sig Guggenmoos

Episode 42: The Relationship Between Cycle & Reliability in Utility Vegetation Management w/ Sig Guggenmoos

Welcome to the 42nd Episode of Trees & Lines: Fresh Perspectives on Utility Vegetation Management

Trees and Lines Podcast – Episode 42

Join Iapetus Infrastructure Services (IIS) COO Tejpal Singh and Principal Advisor Dr. Phil Charlton for a conversation with Sig Guggenmoos, President of Ecological Solutions, Inc.

Episode 42 Transcript

Philip Charlton: Welcome to another episode of Trees and Lines. Sig Guggenmoos, president at Ecological Solutions Inc., joins us to talk about his clear width calculator, the relationship between cycle and reliability, and more. Have a listen. I hope you enjoy.

Welcome Sig. I really appreciate your joining us for today’s podcast.

Sig Guggenmoos: Happy to do so.

Philip Charlton: You reminded me not long ago that we’ve known each other for about 40 years. But not everybody who’s listening may know you, so how about a little bit of background? Tell us who you are and what you’re doing these days.

Sig Guggenmoos: My name is Sig Guggenmoos. My background is like some of your other interviewees; I fell into this business a little accidentally. I went to the University of Guelph to actually take a degree in wildlife and fisheries. But after completing my first year, I met a fellow who was in the graduating class in Wildlife and Fisheries, and he was one of two people out of a class of 22 that had gotten a job. A career change was planned for me. This didn’t look good. Instead, I got a degree in horticulture. I ended up working summer jobs in horticultural research under Dr. Gus Durante, and I found research really appealing. I really enjoyed that, and that gave me a good introduction to statistics back in the days when we didn’t have computers. Well, computers were punch card-type things, and so we did analysis of variance all by hand.

I left university for a period of years and then decided I’d go back and complete my degree. In doing so that next summer, I got a job with Gerry Stephenson doing herbicide research on Ontario Hydro Right-of-Ways. That’s what started me down this path. Back then, I was working with a product called Dowco 233, which you now know was Garlon. I found the research really interesting.

Upon graduating in 1977, my plan was to do graduate work. However, Dr. Gerry Stephenson was taking a sabbatical for a year. I thought, I’ll just hang around the university or, unless I see some plum jobs, apply for them. I saw what looked like a plum job for Amchem involving research. In that interview, I met Roy Johnson. While I didn’t get that job, I came in second in the competition, but they really liked me, so they hooked me up with a contracting company that they had an ownership stake in. I took that job with the contracting company, and we were doing work for utilities, railroads, counties, and vegetation management. I worked in the railroad division then.

After that, after a year when Gerry Stephenson came back from his sabbatical, I had so much enjoyed working for this small contracting company that I said, “No, I want to stick with this and never return to it.” That’s my educational background. I mentioned some of my mentors, Dr. Gus Durante and Dr. Gerry Stephenson. Roy Johnson became a great mentor to me. Then there was Tom Plett of Conrail, and subsequently, I worked with Neil Theissen, and he was a mentor.

I ended up in the contracting world, and our contracting company was located in Ontario, but we were bought by a Calgary firm in 1979. After operating us there for a year, they decided they would move us from Ontario to Alberta, where they already had a division that was in vegetation management for utilities. They combined us into a company called ACE Vegetation Control Service and asked me to be the general manager, which I accepted. That took me to Alberta.

Some years later, TransAlta came looking for me. Phil, you’re familiar with this because how that came about was that ECI had done a study for TransAlta Utilities, and so one of the pieces of advice they had was they should get some more professional staff on board. They basically headhunted me. I ended up at TransAlta, and I was there for ten years. I left TransAlta when I was put in a bit of an unusual circumstance.

Our CEO was very interested in the whole greenhouse gas thing because at the time, I think we were something like 92% of the generation that was coal-fired, and he could see the way things were going with greenhouse gas issues and that there may come regulations that had a dramatic impact on TransAlta’s business. He wanted to get ahead of the curve. I was being chased to take part in working on greenhouse gas issues. However, the forestry group didn’t want to let me go. Well, after about eight months of resisting this, I realized how long before the CEO just makes a declaration that I’m working on greenhouse gas issues and my responsibilities for forestry would continue at the same time. I offered to leave the company and contract back to both groups, and that’s how I ended up consulting, and I started that in 1995.

Over the last 20 years or so, well, there’s more than that now, but for the last 20 years, what I have really been focused on is working with utilities, where I’m supplying data and information, which they in turn then supply to the regulator to inform general tariff applications, to look at vegetation management program effectiveness, and to look for areas of improvement, specifically with respect to cost and reliability. That’s where I’ve been and where it takes me up to present.

Philip Charlton: You worked with Hugo Shaw and Neil Theissen for many years, so it’s ten years at least, I guess, and three guys that have made a huge impact on our industry, each in their own way, so that’s pretty cool. I know you like research because I’ve been working for a couple of utilities interested in improving reliability by shortening their cycle. I do some research, and your name comes up time and time again. You’ve done some great stuff, Sig. Now respond to that question: What should they expect if they’re shortening their cycle to improve reliability?

Sig Guggenmoos: When you look at reliability, you have to break it down. Trees causing outages: are they first a gross categorization? Are they fall-ins, or are they grow-ins? If you’re looking at pruning cycles, then you have to break that down again. If you are not in a situation where you have mandated clearance requirements, you’re not in a fire-prone area, and you don’t have trees, I would say that they give off volatile oils from trees like eucalyptus.

We’ve been around this industry for a while. You’ve seen trees growing up into a conductor, and you might see a little bit of sparking, and there’s a gap, like maybe a quarter inch. It sparks across, and typically what happens is that it heats up that tender growth, it desiccates, and that just stops the growth, and nothing happens.

However, if you have trees like eucalypts, they immediately burst into flames, and I mean roaring flames. If you have that situation, then it’s different than the situation where you just think it’s okay that you can have them grow up. Now, shortening the cycle with trees growing up, you don’t have those eucalypts. You’re not in a fire-prone area, and you don’t have mandated clearance requirements. In that case, it’s hard to say what you’re going to gain from shortening your cycle. It’s only if you get so far behind that you get caught up and basically hot spotting the system. But there is a place where you could allow a certain amount of the trees to grow into the conductors because it’s only going to cause an outage when you have a substantial bridge between phases or it’s grown up between the phases and nothing’s happening until the wind blows, and between the movement of the trees and the conductors, you end up with phases slapping together. But it’s not really going to cause an outage for you.

If you’re in a fire-prone area, then you need to be cautious. If you get a good enough size, let’s say you’ve got something that, at the basis or at a burst height, is about four inches, and it’s moving over into a conductor. Now you could have arching down at ground level, and if you’re in a fire-prone area, you don’t want that. So it depends; each utility’s got to look at what their situation is.

Tej Singh: Could you simplify for the audience? You talk about utilities that may not have mandated requirements or areas that may not have mandated requirements. I would assume, or I would expect—maybe this is a naive thought—that we’re at a place where requirements are almost established across the board in varying degrees. Take fire-prone out of it, because I get that part. But maybe give us an example of a part of the country or a particular space that doesn’t have those requirements.

Sig Guggenmoos: I’m in the province of Alberta, and we have a mandated clearance requirement. There’s a minimum distance that trees are allowed to approach a conductor that has to be maintained all the time. It’s like what our NERC standard does for transmission. But this also applies to distribution. California has mandated clearance requirements. The state of Oregon has one, a little bit different approach in that theirs has to do with whether or not you can climb the tree and so on. But in those cases, you have a limit of approach so that a tree can get to the line, and you need to maintain that. California will actually go out; they have people go out and look to see if you are in violation and find the utility.

In Alberta, they don’t really go out and hunt for those situations. In fact, when I was at TransAlta, we turned it around the other way because if we had an uncooperative landowner who wouldn’t allow us to do the pruning, we would notify the electrical protection branch that we had a situation that was now approaching the limits of approach and the landowner would not allow us to do anything about it. The electrical protection branch would send that landowner a letter saying that should something happen there, the landowner is now equally liable with the utility for any damages. That usually scared them enough to get their cooperation. We usually get a call, like if you get a crew here right now. So that’s the difference.

In other cases, other states don’t have a requirement—a minimum distance between trees and the line.

Philip Charlton: The vast majority of utilities don’t operate under required clearances.

Tej Singh: Sig, I forgot to also mention on this that I’m Canadian and you’re our first Canadian guest, I believe, so celebratory moment there as a fellow Canadian. Talk a little bit about your time in consulting. You’ve done a lot of work for a lot of different utilities. It seems like the bulk of them are on the West Coast, like from Puget, so some of the Canadian players?

Sig Guggenmoos: Well, no, not necessarily, Tej.

Tej Singh: Have you been across the border?

Sig Guggenmoos: I did some major work with National Grid back then. That was actually during the period I was working with them when the big blackout happened in the Northeast, and I was just praying that it did not happen. Before I heard work start, I was just praying it did not occur on the national grid system. It was not there. But it definitely got the point across how important electricity is to us and that vegetation can be a major issue.

Philip Charlton: We consultants did a lot of prayer that night. Everybody wondered who was the one.

Sig Guggenmoos: In terms of cycles, it depends. Now I’ve been working with a client on growth studies since 2015. What we’re doing is having trim crews provide data when they’re doing the pruning, and we’ve got it divided into three eco zones to segregate it, whether it’s crown growth or lateral growth species. They looked back as far as five years in terms of recorded growth.

There are some interesting things that come out of that. When you look at what the maximum amount of growth is and look at the mean growth that we have, by the way, there’s over 6,000 records in that database now, and you look at the mean growth, and you divide the mean growth by the maximum observed over since we’ve collected the data, like by species, by eco zone, and by top or side trim, you end up with numbers ranging from 200% to 700%, which tells you that growth is highly variable.

I look at it as if you can have a timed cycle. However, you’re going to need to modify it by getting a condition assessment. In terms of the timing for distribution, because of this variability in the growth, and by the way, in 20% to 30% of the locations, if you look at what the number is for the upper confidence level, you’ve got 20% to 30% above the upper confidence level, again suggesting to you that you’re going to need a condition assessment.

Now, if you’re in that situation where you don’t have the requirements for distance between trees and lines mandated for you, then in that case, what I would suggest is that you look at what the mean growth is that we have, divide that into the clearance you obtain from pruning, and that would give you a starting point. Then, instead of taking the mean growth goal, take one standard deviation above. That basically says to you about 16% of the trees are going to be in the line before you get there on the next cycle. That strikes me as a reasonable amount, and you can do that on distribution. As I say, if you don’t have those mandated clearance requirements and you’re not in a fire zone,

Philip Charlton: I’ll confirm that. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point did a benchmark, and I believe the average contact at the time of the tree work was 21%. So you’re pretty close.

Sig Guggenmoos: On transmission, you’re looking at a different standard. So what I would suggest to get that starting point on transmission is to go two standard deviations above, leaving you roughly 2.5%. Even that, because transmissions, you really don’t want any outages there, so then you’re going to have to go and inspect to find where’s that 2.5% or 2.2% that we need to pick up?

One of the big things in terms of shorter cycles is because now, between my work and what I’ve seen in the literature, you end up with on distribution systems, the grow-ins being 2% to 25% of all the tree-caused outages. The corollary of that is that 76% to 98% of the outages are caused by tree failures. You’re going to need to separate; what kind of tree failure? Is it a branch failure? Is it a trunk failure? Is it uprooting?

One thing I forgot to mention in my background is that I wrote for six years for Transmission & Distribution World, doing a monthly article. In there, I set out that utilities should be gathering a lot of data in terms of the types of outages. Relying on the service men when they go and re-energize, well, to them, if it’s green all year round, it’s a pine. There’s no distinction made; it’s a pine.

They won’t give you the species information. They can’t really give you the details that you want, so you need to send an arborist out. I recognize that on distribution, there may be a lot of these, and it becomes pretty time-consuming. But you can set a priority to say, we’re going to send an arborist out to investigate outages that occur between the substation and the first protected device, for example, or make it somewhat broader than that.

But to gather information that gives you what was the type of failure, what was the species, and how far you were from the right-of-way or outside the right-of-way? How far away was the tree from the conductor? I’ll tell you that some of the information that I picked up doing inventories for utilities is that generally, when someone is looking from the outside, driving the road, or walking the right-of-way and looking at the trees, the percent of hazard trees that you find is about 2%.

However, because I look at inventories, I want a full utility forest, so I have people go ten feet inside the adjacent forest and gather data there about the trees, and one of the things is to look for defects. What we found there was that when you do that, 11% to up to 30%, or actually, it was over 30%, of the trees inside the forest showed some level of decadence.

In other words, utilities do a great job of identifying hazard trees along the edge, but how deep does that go? It doesn’t extend beyond ten feet inside the forest. If you start looking inside the forest, you’re going to find more hazard trees. You need information like that. Again, all of this stuff becomes very useful in terms of communicating with the regulator. Do you want us to send someone out and inspect all the trees to take the time and expense to do that?

Tej Singh: I’ve got to imagine the answer is no.

Sig Guggenmoos: Well, the difficulty there, Tej, is that I don’t know that many utilities have done it. Now I just recently did some work in West Virginia, and I was informed there that their transmission group actually did some of that basically for their own information, to inform them in terms of what the difference is, and it’s pretty substantial. But there’s bound to be a huge cost to doing that—having someone walk in. I’ve seen utilities play, and we expect our contractors to check all the trees. Well, let’s look specifically at the wording in the contract. Is it clearly set out that they are to inspect all the trees? If not, then you’re not likely getting that, and you’re not paying for it.

Be honest. If you’re a utility, be honest. Have you got that stated that they inspect every tree so that, in the event of failure, they could contact a conductor? In a certain sense, if you want to do that, you could tremendously improve your hazard tree program, and that would have a big impact on reliability.

Tej Singh: When you mentioned inventory, I saw that you have been doing a lot of work with LiDAR, geospatial data, etc. Are you then taking a lot of the data that the utility is gathering, analyzing, and processing? How are you going about doing an evaluation for the utility and then also factoring in their budget requirements to give them a more optimal solution?

Some of the things that you’re talking about going ten feet in and doing a full assessment of where the true risks are, there always seems to be a mismatch between what the PUC understands and what their budgets are being allocated to the utility for versus what the actual problems are. then it becomes a dollar token. How are you going about optimizing that whole thing for the utilities so they get the best outcome?

Sig Guggenmoos: I see that there’s a certain amount of work that you need to do every year. I really borrowed this from forestry. In forestry, you have an annual volume increment. So these are guys looking at production in the forest. There’s an annual volume increment. I coined the term utility forest because we need to recognize that we’re dealing with the same things for different reasons, but we’re dealing with a system that’s the same. There is an annual volume increment of work that occurs that you need to be removing and addressing every year. If not, you’re falling behind.

What my research has shown is that the nature of that expansion is a logistic progression, which is to say it follows an S-curve. It starts off slow, but beyond a certain point, you have a period of exponential expansion, and then it levels off at the top. In other words, it’s as bad as it could get when you get to the top. That’s how I go about it.

I’ve used LiDAR data in terms of setting out for utilities. This takes me into another topic, which is that I developed a system that I call the optimal clear width calculator, and the output is called the risk factor. What I do is develop a risk factor by span and side for companies along their lines. So far, I’ve done this work only on behalf of transmission companies, and that’s where I’ve used LiDAR. But I haven’t in terms of doing the inventory; I subcontract work to crews going out, actually doing measurements in the fields, and it’s sampling across the electric system to get the data.

Tej, you just took me into another topic there in terms of what really causes them. Where do tree-related outages come from? It’s basically the major thing: tree exposure. In the utilities I’ve worked with, when it comes to growing outages, what I’ve seen is that growing out is responsible for 2% to 5% of the tree-related outages, so the vast majority are coming from some form of tree failure.

The utilities that actually collect that data that I suggested should collect it subsequent to a tree failure, send an arborist out, and get that information. What they found was that 70% of those tree failure outages would not have been prevented had they gone out the day before and seen that tree; they would not have deemed it a hazard tree. So basically, tree-related outages are caused by the amount of tree exposure. Now I’ve done work with two different transmission systems, and transmission was great for this. Let’s look at it. How does transmission control the number of tree-related outages? With wider right-of-ways and taller structures, which basically means greater clearance between conductors and ground, is there a difference in the tree-related outages experienced between voltage classes? Well, pretty well, everyone who works on transmission systems can say yes, definitely there is.

Then I looked at what the factors are that make up for this difference. By the way, it isn’t just the width of the right-of-ways. Specifically, I’m interested in what’s the clearance between the outside conductor and the tree trunks on the forest edge, which I call the clear width. Does clear width account for the difference in the outage experience between these voltage classes? Well, the correlation there was sometimes yes, sometimes no. That depended on how big a difference you had between the voltage classes.

In other words, if you had, let’s say, a 69 kV, you had a 50-foot right-of-way, which might have given you, let’s say, 30 some odd feet of clear width, but for the 115, you had a 120-foot right-of-way and you had the 70-foot clear width. You had a big difference between the two. In that case, yes, there was a correlation. What other factors do we have? What about the line height? No, it didn’t come up as significant. What about tree height? didn’t come up as significant. Now, the reason being that in sampling, you’ve got tree height this much at one place, and the next place is another tree height, so it’s a variable all over. That wasn’t significant.

I lump all of these things together and add one more thing. I look at line height, tree height, clear width, and tree density. How many trees per acre do you have? It is part of the information we get from work in the forest that creates a risk factor. That risk factor was found to have a tremendously strong correlation to the outage experience. The only other one that had a really strong correlation to the outage experience was the number of trees—the total number of trees per voltage class miles. In other words, it’s tree exposure—the total number of trees per mile of that voltage class.

Both of those things are risk factors, and one is a direct amount of exposure of the trees per mile, and the risk factor is a more detailed risk exposure in that it also factors in if you look at the trees along the side, what’s the angle? If they could hit the line, it would be a very small risk if they needed to fall exactly 90 degrees. But if they’re closer to the line, then you have this arc of exposure that the line has. The risk factor accounts for that.

With that, I was able to develop a regression equation that explains the difference in tree-related outage experience between the voltage classes and makes it predictable. The R-squared value was over 0.95. For those who don’t know statistics or have forgotten their statistics, what that implies is that if you identify another variable, it’s got to be less than 5%, which means it’s not significant. In other words, tree height, line height, clear width, and tree density have captured the majority of the variables you need to make to determine what the risk is.

With that, what you can do is look at what if we widen the right-of-way? Can we reduce that tree exposure or lower that tree exposure? What is the improvement in reliability that we can expect? You can accomplish that with that, or you could look at what would happen if we increased the height of the line. What will that do? For those sorts of things, I’ve been able to use LiDAR data to come up with things like that.

Tej Singh: In a steady-state environment, the data that you’re looking at obviously doesn’t account for event. If the forest and its state changes because a storm came through and even though it didn’t knock out a bunch of trees, it’s changed their health, maybe in some way, shape, or form. Your study and your data change, obviously. If you’ve now put a utility, you’ve given them the risk factor, they’ve built a plan around it, the budget has flowed, and a storm hits in year two, you’d have to recalibrate based on your risk profile to adjust that.

Sig Guggenmoos: I’ll tell you a good thing about that: if you’re looking at, let’s say, you widen the right-of-way. That applies even during storms. That benefit applies even during storms. Now, the thing is, if you widen the right-of-way, in that case, you need to widen it substantially because you’ve created a new edge, so trees are now more vulnerable to failure because they have not experienced the loading that you’re now exposing them to. I look at it like five to eight years; there’s a higher risk of trees failing on the edge and coming into the line. You need to make the change big enough that while you have more trees failing and falling into the right-of-way, they’re not hitting the conductor in doing so.

In other words, for that arc of exposure that I mentioned, you need to narrow it down so much that you can have trees falling off the side of it. You have to balance it out that way. Tej, as you mentioned, the conditions change. When I did work for Puget Sound Energy, we looked at wind loading and things, too, and we took a ten-year time slice and said, “Okay, if the next ten years were like the last ten years, then we could predict this.” But obviously there’s going to be some variables. By the same token, you can’t go and take what was done for Puget Sound Energy and apply it to another utility because your tree species are going to be different, the weather conditions that you have are going to be different, and so on. The principle remains, but the specifics vary.

Tej Singh: I’m really enjoying this analytical breakdown of how you think about risk, how you quantified it, and how you can communicate with all the different variables. Here’s a question for you. You’ve been in this industry for a long time. Is there somebody out there like Sig’s nemesis who has a completely different approach or refutes the work that you do because they’ve got a different theory and a different approach generating different results? Is everybody generally operating in the same sphere but just slicing the pie a little differently?

Sig Guggenmoos: I don’t see anybody who has a totally different approach. There are people who say they can provide utilities with a risk evaluation along their lines, and so on. I don’t see anyone who has done the level of work that I’ve done in terms of defining that risk. Yes, you can go and take satellite imagery or LiDAR imagery and say you have so many trees along your line. But you haven’t combined all those variables that I do. As you’ve seen, Tej, I’m big on numbers and statistics. That’s the approach that I like. I had a client that put me in touch with someone who was wanting to get into this business, and they were looking at it and saying that they were going to do machine learning, artificial intelligence, and so on. This was going to be a great thing, and they’re going to be able to sell it to utilities. I pointed out to them that, in terms of the growth studies, the variability is so great. How are you going to do that? The statistics say you can’t just predict it. You have such variability. Oh, we’re going to incorporate weather. We’re going to incorporate soil and so on. I said, yeah, and given that I worked on greenhouse gas issues, I can tell you that in soil you have variability. Move 30 feet, and it’s totally different. How are you going to incorporate all of that? Consequently, if someone comes up with something, I want to see it field-verified.

I’ll give you an example of that. When the LiDAR providers really started coming onto the scene in the early 2000s, they were very impressed with the fact that they now had the resolution down to this small amount. We’re talking centimeters, so that’s great. However, what I wanted to find out was, okay, you’ve gone and done the scan. Have you gone back out in the field and checked how accurate the scan was? Yes, your technology gives it two centimeters, but what’s working in the background is all these algorithms. I need to know how good your algorithm is. Not everyone does that. Not everyone goes out to the field to verify the accuracy of the algorithms they’re using.

Philip Charlton: Sig, I’ll tell you, the first research project I worked on was a right-of-way, and the field crews were pacing a distance and writing that down to the 10th of a foot. I always thought it was just a mismatch. Someone needs to be verifying the data.

Tej Singh: Something that interests me very much, and I’m just starting. Phil, to me, is a repository like yourself, with so much information and history in this space. When we think about carbon sequestration, we start thinking about the right-of-way as an asset rather than just a liability and start to think about the carbon value of the footprint. So, hey, right-of-way X, what that utility A owns is worth the equivalent of—I’ll just throw a number out there—$20 million based on its carbon credit value versus this right-of-way. We’ve cleared $5 million of that value this year, etc. Your work obviously centers around risk. How much of your work now is also tied into that side of it, the environmental preservation of the right-of-way value?

Sig Guggenmoos: It hasn’t, Tej, although interestingly, I don’t know how many utilities have done this, but I did that. I told you, you know, that I went consulting because I was being chased by the CEO to do work on greenhouse gas issues. One of the things we did was look at right-of-way in terms of carbon sequestration, and it turned out very positive. We thought environmental groups would give us a good pat on the back for doing that kind of work, but no, we got nothing for it.

If you’re putting in a new right-of-way, you’re removing this biomass, so there’s a big drop at the outset. But as time goes on with the approach of letting grasses and shrubs grow, it is actually very good. It’s a positive. I went back to my TransAlta days, and we looked at right-of-ways and environmentally too. We had greater species diversity and abundance on our right-of-ways. This was on distribution. We’d have the line on one side of the roadway, and we’d be maintaining it on the other side. The county, for example, would be maintaining it and doing whatever they did. We had greater species diversity and abundance in the areas we maintained than what appeared on the county side, which was typically just dealt with by mowing.

Tej Singh: Sig, I could do this all day with you. I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface of a lot of your work, impact, and research. I know that we’ve covered a lot today, but we should do a continuation of this discussion. I don’t know about you, Phil, but I’m fascinated by Sig’s mathematical–

Philip Charlton: Sig’s a researcher, and it always comes through.

Tej Singh: His views are super interesting. I’m a math guy, so I like things quantified—the statistics side of things. I think this is the first conversation I’ve had where you have this level of granularity in terms of the data, so I’m super interested in continuing to explore stuff.

Sig Guggenmoos: There are a lot of other topics to get into. I mentioned Neil Theissen, whom I’ve worked for, as one of my mentors. He was fabulous in terms of customer relations, so that’s a whole other area to talk about. One of the other big areas is in terms of relationships between utilities and regulators. What I’ve seen is an attitude of, they’re against us, so they’re really scared. Or if we buy them enough lunches, we’ll get cooperation. I look at it as neither one of those being really effective. There is a whole area of discussion about how to approach the regulator because I’ve had what I look at as success.

I’ll give you an example. If the regulator comes up with a proposal as I did for Puget Sound Energy, if we go out and remove something like 8% of the total tree exposure, it would be about 380,000 trees if we identified the areas. This is that stuff with the risk factor; where’s the area of high risk? Let’s shift those to lower the risk. As a consequence, there’s an overall benefit to the system. We could obtain a 42% reduction in tree-related outages, which would apply in good or bad weather. The regulator said that if we approve this, we’re going to get the phone calls. No, thanks; don’t do it. But in terms of utility, they’ve been told not to do this. You have offered a solution to the issue; now it’s not the utility’s fault.

Tej Singh: We should hopefully reserve some time with you and maybe focus on some of these topics—the customer service side of things and the regulator and utility dynamic—because they’re important. Especially what we’re seeing right now in this climate, regulators have been pretty aggressively rejecting initial rate cases, and the utilities have gone back to the drawing board and have to solve for this much work with this much money. How utilities are choosing now to prioritize the risk profiles hasn’t necessarily changed, but their ability to execute and manage that risk with limited resources, of course, has. I definitely would love to talk more about how your recommendations are shifting based on this different environment.

One thing we noticed, of course, is that a fire takes place, a storm takes place, and there’s a correlation to budget expansion. Everybody doesn’t want to end up in a newspaper. But as things have calmed down over the last three or four years, budgets have as well. But in order to prevent getting back into those complicated situations, you’ve got to continue to do the right things. I’m always curious how someone like you, who has so many years of experience, has the data. When you see the shift in money, how much does the variability of your recommendation shift?

Sig Guggenmoos: I’ll give you a teaser, Tej. I have an example of a utility. I went to them, and they wanted to talk about risk, and they have problems in terms of a general tariff application. I said it’s going to take some time, but I’m going to get you data. What we’re going to do is transfer the responsibility to the regulator if they do not want to address this. They will be scared. The day after the rate case was done, the VP called me up and said, “Sig, you’re right. They were scared. They agreed to every recommendation you made.”

Tej Singh: Fear will definitely drive certain levels of outcome, that’s for sure. Well, this was awesome, Sig. Like I said, let’s find some more time to continue the dialog over a couple of more episodes. I don’t know, Phil, if you have anything else you want to tackle.

Philip Charlton: No, we’re running out of time.

Tej Singh: There’s just so much to talk about with Sig, and it was an absolute pleasure to just get through this today. This was amazing.

Philip Charlton: How many years have you been out of TransAlta Consulting?

Sig Guggenmoos: I left there and set up the consulting business in 1995. That’s almost 30 years now.

Tej Singh: No, this is great. Sig, you really have an innovative way of thinking about things. Congrats on all the great work that you’ve done and the impact you’ve had on this space. Pretty impressive.

Sig Guggenmoos: Well, thank you.

Philip Charlton: I appreciate your taking the time today, Sig, and we will follow up.

Sig Guggenmoos: Definitely.

Philip Charlton: It’d be great to have you back.

Tej Singh: That’s it for this episode of Trees and Lines, brought to you by Iapetus Holdings. If you like the show, please give us a five-star rating on Apple or Spotify. If you have any questions or comments on any of our episodes or ideas for topics or guests, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us at We’ll chat with you soon.

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