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Power in numbers

Fleet Owner,  July 1, 2005  by Deborah McGuffie

With 800+ pieces of fleet equipment to maintain, Georgia Power Co. recognizes the benefits of standardizing specs as much as possible. Its utility trucks are nearly 100% Freightliner chassis, powered by Caterpillar ACERT diesel engines rated from 200 to 300 hp. and Allison automatic transmissions. Steve Hopkins, fleet engineering manager for the utility company, says this policy has not only helped streamline parts inventory, but has benefited the mechanics as well, who have gotten used to working on like-vehicles and are now more productive.

Hopkins notes, however, that it's not always easy standardizing equipment for the numerous power distribution and transmission workers for Georgia Power, who sometimes have very specific and very different equipment needs.

"For one thing," Hopkins points out, "the state of Georgia has varying terrain, so we have to design our trucks to operate both on- and off-road. Parts of our state are flat and sandy...others are mountainous... and there are even swamps. In many cases our transmission people must go into some pretty inaccessible areas, so some of our customers require four-wheel-drive vehicles, others tandem axles."

Hopkins notes that of the approximately 6,200 line-department people working in power distribution and transmission for Georgia Power, nearly 2,200 of them have commercial driver's licenses.

Equipment is budgeted at the fleet level, Hopkins explains. The engineering group and the procurement team meet with internal customers to determine what their needs are. "If we can meet their needs within our budgeted money, we'll do it; for special big-ticket items, like elevators used to extend aerial trucks 10 ft. more, then the customer will have to pay for the item. We handle capital purchase of our customers' trucks and they pay us on a monthly basis."

The fleet contains three types of aerial trucks: three large (over 100 ft.); 305 medium; (50-100 ft.); and 241 small (under 50 ft.). In addition, there are 177 digger derricks, 68 flatbeds and 24 road tractors. Georgia Power started buying Freightliner FL Series models in 1997, then switched in 2004 to M2s, which have added benefits, such as multiplex wiring and improved switches.

"We've had very good luck with the reliability of the trucks. This has become especially critical as our customers have had to eliminate spare trucks... in order to continue to provide cost-effective service to their customers," Hopkins notes.

"We have approximately 30 full-functioning maintenance facilities around the state and 135 mechanics that are managed by 15 fleet supervisors. In addition to regularly scheduled PMs, we also do as much of the repair work as our expertise allows, including warranty work."

According to Hopkins, workforce planning has become somewhat of a problem at Georgia Power. As the babyboomers retire, they're leaving a huge gap in the system because the utility had not been hiring new mechanics at the rate it did 30 years ago. It has also become harder and harder to find qualified mechanics and the younger technicians who do come on-board are not staying for any great length of time.

"Adding to the problem is the fact that we work our mechanics on the second shift so the [out-of-commission] trucks don't take away from the productivity of the crew during their day hours. This is another thing that's become necessary since there are no longer spare trucks available in case of breakdowns," Hopkins advises.

Georgia Power Co. is a regulated, investor-owned utility. It is the exclusive power supplier in the metro Atlanta area and has nearly 2-million utility customers statewide.