Co-op News

Touchstone Energy Balloons Fly High

By Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: July 31st, 2013

One of the most unique fleets operated by electric cooperatives is logging thousands of miles this year, helping to put a little color into the skies over co-op territory.

The Touchstone Energy hot air balloon prepares for lift off at the Gulf Coast Balloon Festival in Foley, Ala. (Photo By: Kevin Bernson/Cooperative Balloon Associates)

The Touchstone Energy hot air balloon prepares for lift off at the Gulf Coast Balloon Festival in Foley, Ala. (Photo By: Kevin Bernson/Cooperative Balloon Associates)

“The Touchstone Energy® chase vans have been on a lot of roads this year and our hot air balloons have flown over dozens of events,” said Cheri White, general manager of Cooperative Balloon Associates. “This has been one of our busiest seasons ever.”

There are now three vans and four large fabric balloons in the fleet. One unit, which consists of the balloon, a basket, a set of propane burners and support gear, is normally kept in reserve.

Nearly half of the 50 events on the 2013 Touchstone Energy Hot Air Balloon Schedule have already been completed, leaving memories for thousands of people who’ve seen them overhead or on the ground.

View photo gallery: Touchstone Energy Balloon Tour

“I have been on a crazy schedule, attending events in Washington, Alabama, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee and Iowa,” said White, hours before taking part in the 31st annual New Jersey Festival of Ballooning’s media event.

White and her Touchstone Energy Hot Balloon were among more than 100 inflatables taking part in one of the largest annual balloon events in North America, July 26-28, at Solberg Airport in Readington, N.J.

The co-op balloon appeared on behalf of Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative. As New Jersey’s only electric cooperative and a Touchstone Energy member, Sussex REC saw the festival as a lot more than a chance to put its brand in front of its nearly 12,000 consumer-members.

“The festival draws a lot of visitors from both the Philadelphia and New York metropolitan areas,” said Tom Tate, manager of marketing and member services for the Sussex-based co-op. “It is also a major fundraiser for many of the volunteer fire departments, ambulance services and other community organizations that provide services for our consumer-members.”

Although the Touchstone Energy balloons’ season typically runs February through October, and with three crews, several open dates are still available this year. More than 700 people follow the crews’ travels on Facebook.

“When we launched our first balloon in 1999, it immediately became an icon for promotion of the brand,” said David Champion, Jr., president and CEO of Paxton, Ill.,-based Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative,  and a Touchstone Energy balloon pilot since 2001. “People want to know how you steer and how fast and far you can go,” said Champion. “At seven stories high, they are just so majestic and colorful. People are fascinated by them.”

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