Valley Electric Association Smart Grid

Valley Electric Association powerline and transformer

Valley Electric Association Smart Grid

New power infrastructure provides technology upgrades, more efficient lives for rural Nevadans  

After more than a century of advancements, many rural communities are preparing for another series of power and communication system upgrades.  

The smart grid — a movement to modernize power technology — signifies a way forward for power providers and communities alike. Many providers with utility poles in place, like the Valley Electric Association, a nonprofit electric utility headquartered in Pahrump, Nevada, are subsequently connecting high-speed broadband service to remote areas. These efforts provide efficiencies and meet real, modern-day needs.  

These innovations led to quantum leaps in high school education in Beatty, Nevada, population 1,010 — where students frequently lost internet connection during assignments and tests. Their teachers struggled to post grades and communicate with parents. Now, students and teachers experience the same connectivity as those in Los Angeles or New York City. 

Smart grid technology significantly improves system communication and control with advanced meters, allowing the VEA to understand their grids better. It offers two-way communication between VEA and its customers, which is especially important as customers install distributed generation components. 

HDR’s power delivery field inspectors and engineers help the VEA recognize and avoid any impediments to progress throughout its service area along the Nevada-California border. The team assesses, designs and implements power metering and fiber-optic cable infrastructure to help residents lead more efficient lives. 

Our work for VEA began with Environmental Sciences & Planning (permitting and environmental monitoring) contracts in the early 2000s. In 2013, VEA contracted with us for engineering design, which included solar generation, transmission lines and distribution, and substations. 

The work grew to include hanging fiber-optic cable to new poles, and, because many towns like Pahrump and Beatty did not have ideal power grids, we helped redesign the power systems while hanging fiber. Poles were sun-bleached, dried out and wind-blown — all damages common in the desert. In many cases, VEA needed to replace poles before adding more load. 

VEA intends to run fiber-optic cable to all of its meters and equipment, with goals of improved system reliability, managed assets and capital spending. The utility has approximately 22,000 meters on the system. 

In addition, VEA tasked us with creating, implementing and updating the overall project schedule; collaborating with VEA and the telecommunications system consultant via a project management information system; providing weekly meeting notes; obtaining and managing the light detection and ranging surveying subconsultant for engineering design data; and providing guidance to the design team. 

While the scope of adding communication infrastructure to power poles is not new to HDR, the VEA project scale is definitely larger than most. With geographic information systems, we plan, design and deliver VEA’s tasks more efficiently, reducing project costs.

Valley Electric Association powerline and transformer
Valley Electric Association

Nevada & California border,
United States

6,800 square miles (VEA’s service area)