Holiday Weekend Spent on the JobBy Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: September 6th, 2011
Co-op lineworkers in several regions of the country found a special way to mark the Labor Day holiday weekend. They spent all or most of it restoring electricity to the homes and businesses of co-op consumer-members.
In several states along the East Coast, most restoration work from outages caused by Hurricane Irene was completed, while crews from Gulf Coast states responded to scattered outages caused by Tropical Storm Lee.
In Texas, lineworkers completed some projects needed to restore damage caused by wildfires, while others responded to new outages caused by another round of fires.
“We’re really proud of all of our co-op line crews,” said Ron Campbell, vice president of safety for the Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives.
Hurricane Irene swept through the Mid-Atlantic region Aug. 26-28, leaving nearly 2.5 million people without power in Virginia alone.
About 350 crew workers and 150 utility vehicles from western Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, South Carolina, Delaware and Georgia assisted eight Virginia co-ops with restoration work that was completed Sept. 3.
“Most people don’t think about linemen very often, but you sure do when your lights are out,” Campbell said. “It’s a reminder that the job that line workers do is critically important to all of us every hour of every day.”
Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, based in Hughesville, completed the most extensive restoration effort in its 74-year history Sept. 3. Hurricane Irene knocked out power to 109,000 of the co-op’s consumer-members in four Maryland counties.
“The restoration process that followed this destruction was the most well-coordinated, organized, and executed storm response I have ever witnessed,” said Austin J. Slater Jr., president and CEO of SMECO.
Seven crews from Alabama and 10 from Georgia assisted SMECO throughout a week of restoration work. Delaware Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Greenwood, and Denton, Md.-based Choptank Electric Cooperative restored power to more than 38,000 of their consumer-members by Aug. 29, before releasing crews to join restoration efforts in other co-op-served areas.
Meanwhile, in north-central Texas, crews from Cleburne-based United Cooperative Services set more than 100 utility poles and strung miles of conductor, as they rebuilt the distribution system destroyed by wildfires.
They worked “in some of the harshest conditions one could imagine, and they did so because they know how many of our members were depending on them,” said Ray Beavers, the co-op’s CEO. All members had power restored by Sept. 4.
In addition to 125 poles, United lost a key bank of regulators essential for regulating electric voltage, said Beavers, adding that his crews replaced more than 400 poles in the same area following wildfires in April. He said experience from the spring fires “provided us with a very systematic and efficient strategy to deal with such a scenario.”
“I just hope we don’t have to go back to this playbook again,” he added.
Parched areas of eastern and central Texas were buffeted by high winds Sept. 4-5 as Tropical Storm Lee crossed the Gulf Coast in Louisiana. But areas in the Lone Star State did not receive the heavy rains that would have reduced the fire threat, and more scattered blazes were reported.
Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, based in Bastrop, was forced to relocate its operations center to an alternate site Sept. 3 as fires threatened the surrounding area and authorities urged people to evacuate.
“The safety of the firefighters and the public are our foremost concern,” said Mark Rose, Bluebonnet’s CEO. “We are intentionally cutting power to areas in the path of the fire so emergency crews and residents evacuating won’t have another hazard to deal with.”
The service territory of Dixie Electric Membership Corp., based in Baton Rouge, La., received 13 inches of rainfall from Tropical Storm Lee, and high winds knocked out power to about 3,000 consumer-members. About 200 homes flooded in Livingston Parish alone.
Forty-one lineworkers from Mississippi and 10 from Texas helped DEMCO restore power, said Billy Gibson, director of communications for the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives.
“Most affected consumer-members had power restored quickly in areas where co-op equipment could be accessed safely.”
Singing River Electric Power Association, based in Lucedale, Miss., reported scattered outages in the seven counties of Mississippi and southwestern Alabama it serves as the remnants of Lee moved inland.
“It was a slow-moving and wide storm that just kept knocking out service sporadically all across the map,” said Lorri Freeman, the co-op’s manager of communications. “Our crews did a great job even in the wet conditions.”