The last five years have been some of the most challenging ones in Green Mountain Power Corp.'s history. Based in Colchester, VT, the traditional, fully integrated electric utility provides power and distribution services to 87,000 customers. When a rate decision in 1998 put Green Mountain Power Corp. into near bankruptcy, management realized very quickly that it would have to make some drastic changes in order to survive.

Jon Soter, manager of corporate services, says that after three years of financial crisis, the utility has made a complete recovery. “Our mission was to become the best distribution utility possible. One of the most obvious ways of doing this was by leveraging technology so we could do things better with fewer resources. By necessity, this included redefining jobs and reducing the workforce from 320 to 191 individuals.”

As the second largest utility in Vermont, Green Mountain Power Corp. serves about one quarter of the state's population. Its customers, and trucks, however, are scattered throughout the state, so managing the 167-vehicle fleet is a challenge.

“We have seven different service areas and just three mechanics,” Soter explains. “We've addressed the problem by developing partnerships with vendors in locations where we have no maintenance staff. Also when needed, and for purposes of quality control, we put our mechanics on the road one day a week to those areas to do work as required. We have one utility truck set up to do standard service and repairs in the field as needed.”

The utility fleet includes numerous trailers, smaller utility vehicles and pickup trucks. The primary truck, however, is the line construction truck, and the most recent additions to the fleet have been International 4400 Series medium-duty cab chassis with Altec aerial devices. The company also has an extensive inventory of GMC 7500 Series straight trucks with Telelect aerials.

“We have 34 of these medium-duty utility vehicles altogether, including both bucket and digger derrick trucks with booms ranging from 42 to 55 ft. We've been spec'ing longer booms as the trend today is for higher utility poles that are also placed farther off-road,” Soter points out.

“During our financial crisis, we were unable to invest in the fleet, so now that things are looking better we've got some catching up to do. Our goal is get the medium-duty trucks back on a ten-year trade cycle, and smaller vehicles on a five-year cycle,” he says.

Soter anticipates that by the end of 2004 the fleet will be back on a reasonable replacement program. Of course, he notes, any reinvestment in the fleet must be done prudently.

“What we're doing right now is trying to leverage technology by equipping our trucks with things like satellite transmitters and laptop computers. The satellite transmitters help our schedulers locate trucks that are nearest to an area that's having a power outage,” Soter reports.

“The laptops give driver/line workers access to important information, such as directions to the site and specifications about the lines and poles they are going to be working on, which helps them plan their work ahead of time,” Soter continues. To accommodate these additional communications devices and give drivers more room inside the truck, he says the utility has moved from a standard chassis to spec'ing extended cabs.

With no spare vehicles on hand, Soter says it's critical that every truck in the fleet is available for work when needed. “We've had a fair number of weekends here in the Northeast where line crews have worked around the clock getting power back on for customers,” he says. “One of the ways we've been able to keep going over the last few years has been through the genuine pursuit of a good preventive maintenance program. We're constantly updating our technology, and by adhering to our maintenance schedules, we're saving dollars while ensuring the reliability of our fleet.”