Power Restoration

14 Feet of Snow Covers Alaska Co-op

By Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: January 11th, 2012

An Alaska electric cooperative has faced months of blizzards and avalanches, but despite harsh winter conditions, no weather-related outages have occurred on its distribution lines.

Consumer-members inside this snowbound house in Cordova, Alaska, still have electricity despite heavy snow and ice that has paralyzed their community. (Photo By: Associated Press/Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management)

Consumer-members inside this snowbound house in Cordova, Alaska, still have electricity despite heavy snow and ice that has paralyzed their community. (Photo By: Associated Press/Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management)

“We’ve gotten more than 170 inches of snow this season,” said Clay Koplin, general manager of Cordova Electric Cooperative. “We got 39 inches in November, 82 inches in December, and 56 inches so far in January. Since Dec. 20 it’s just been snowing and snowing.”

Winter’s onslaught began just weeks after the Cordova-based cooperative completed a 35-year project to bury all of its distribution and most of its transmission lines. While that system has weathered the heavy snow and accumulations of ice caused by 44 additional inches of rain since Nov. 1, there have been problems.

“There’ve been some big chunks of ice that have fallen off of people’s roofs and damaged their meters, and caused service entry outages,” Koplin said. “We’ve had to send lineworkers out to make those repairs.”

The co-op has also faced power production problems at one of its hydroelectric facilities, where an icebound inflatable dam depressurized to minimize damage to its bladder. Chest-high snow and the danger of avalanches have kept staffers off of the two-mile private access road leading to the powerhouse.

Avalanches and snow-clogged roads have also made staffing a problem, Koplin said. “On Jan. 6, only four of the co-op’s 17 employees were able to make it in because the roads were impassable.”

Co-op staffers have placed red pennants and spray-painted snowbanks to mark roadside locations of pad mounted transformers and other equipment around snowbound Cordova, Alaska. (Photo By: Clay Koplin/ Cordova Electric Cooperative

Co-op staffers have placed red pennants and spray-painted snowbanks to mark roadside locations of pad mounted transformers and other equipment around snowbound Cordova, Alaska. (Photo By: Clay Koplin/ Cordova Electric Cooperative

At one point recently, the co-op had one staffer on hand to operate its power plant, and another available to answer telephone calls from its 1,500 members, Koplin said. “One staffer had to board our utility boat to shovel out the snow to keep it from capsizing.”

The co-op has also had staffers out with red pennants and cans of red spray paint to mark the locations of pad mounted transformers and other equipment to warn emergency snow removal crews that they are approaching the electrical equipment, Koplin said.

More than 50 Alaska National Guard personnel have joined snow removal efforts. Huge diesel-fueled snow melting machines have been brought in to help liquefy snow hauled to disposal sites.

“They’ve just been at this for two, three solid weeks of hitting one storm after another,” Jeremy Zidek, of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, recently told reporters. “They’re worn out. They don’t have a lot of places to store snow.”

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