Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Pictured is the older of 2 digger derricks. A new digger derrick is scheduled to arrive in 2028.

Whether traveling on a state highway, taking a gravel route, moving along dirt backroads or taking a trail up a mountainside, Clearwater Power crew members rely on vehicles, machines and equipment to keep the lights on. From pickups to specially-equipped bucket trucks to backhoes, forklifts and ATVs, your cooperative maintains a fleet of 35 vehicles and nearly 50 pieces of equipment.

These vehicles and equipment provide what’s needed to navigate our rural service territory in every type of weather and continually build, maintain and repair more than 3,000 miles of power line.

In the last 12 months, Clearwater Power trucks alone were driven more than 340,000 miles. The average mileage on vehicles in the current fleet is 94,000, with seven having more than 150,000 miles on them. The costs associated with maintaining the fleet continue to rise.

“We definitely use the vehicles, and we need to make sure they are properly serviced so they continue to run well,” General Foreman Jeff Braden says.

This becomes increasingly challenging the older a vehicle is, especially when the lead time for parts is extended.

Clearwater Power employs one full-time fleet mechanic and another employee who splits his time between fleet attendant and warehouse responsibilities. The 2 are responsible for tracking the maintenance of all the vehicles, performing routine maintenance and completing most of the needed repairs. In addition, they ensure the vehicles are cleaned regularly, fueled and delivered to where they are needed.

This ensures four crews stationed out of 3 warehouses—Ahsahka, Princeton and Lewiston—have the vehicles and equipment they need, where they need it on any given day.

Over time, the vehicles must be replaced, and purchases must be planned well in advance. A 2-person bucket truck ordered in May 2021 still hasn’t arrived. Its cost was close to $320,000, and it isn’t going to be ready until January 2024. Like most utility vehicles, the trucks are outfitted with specialized equipment, such as extra lights, bins for keeping needed tools and supplies on hand, and specific holders for transporting transformers and wire.

Trucks return for the day and line up for service.Photos by Clearwater Power.

As costs rise, Clearwater Power looks years in advance to ensure the right vehicles and equipment are bought and retired at the right time so it’s smart and efficient with its fleet operations. The most recent digger derrick—a machine that has a giant auger to dig pole holes and large booms to set poles—bought in 2021 cost about $350,000. The next digger derrick ordered this year, for delivery in 2028 (yes, 5 years from now!) will cost more than $450,000.

That’s a lot of budgeting, planning, maintaining and care for costly and specialized machines and utility vehicles. Clearwater Power continues to be smart about spreading the costs out over the years while maintaining a reliable fleet to keep costs down while keeping the power on.