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After Hurricane Irene, Co-ops in the US Face Huge Tasks

30 August 2011

A recent article by ICA-Americas member, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA,) gives us first-hand information about the situation in the US after Hurricane Irene, how electric co-ops were affected and their plans to help restore power in several states.

By Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: August 29th, 2011

Hurricane Irene swept across the Eastern Seaboard over the weekend leaving more than 2 million people without power, including hundreds of thousands of co-op consumer-members.

Hurricane Irene toppled trees into powerlines near Atlantic Highlands, N.J. Similar damage could be found from the Carolinas to New England. (Photo By: The Associated Press)

“High winds and heavy rains resulted in damage to our lines and poles,” said Ricky Bywaters, manager of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s Bowling Green District office. The Fredericksburg, Va.-based co-op reported 21,000 of its consumer-members without power the afternoon of Aug. 28, hours after tropical storm-strength winds began battering the co-op’s service territory.

Irene made landfall near Nags Head, N.C., Aug. 27. While highest sustained winds of 85 mph meant the storm was a Category 1 hurricane, its massive size and skirting track caused problems for co-ops well inland. Parts of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware were pummeled with winds exceeding 60 mph and torrential rains most of Saturday.

“All parts of our system were affected” said Anne Whaples, manager of cooperative communications for Choptank Electric Cooperative, based in Denton, Md. “Most of our problems were caused by trees and limbs. We had some downed and broken poles, and some flooding hindered accessibility.”
The scope of the outages and widespread damage prompted many co-ops to seek patience from consumer-members.

“The low-hanging fruit has been harvested,” said one co-op official overseeing some of the repairs in North Carolina, where the high outage figure of 152,000 had been cut to 63,000 by early Aug. 29. “We’re working hard for the rest of it.”

North Carolina’s Association of Electric Cooperatives distributed a graphic outlining co-op restoration procedures.
Co-op line crews from the nation’s heartland headed toward the Atlantic Seaboard to help lineworkers from other member-owned utilities restore power.

“The co-ops have lined up the necessary resources to begin restoration of power as soon as the storm allows us,” said Jane Pritchard, director of corporate communications for North Carolina’s statewide association.

The storm made a second landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., around 5:30 a.m. Aug. 28. Tropical storm-force winds of 65 mph battered much of the state for several hours and knocked out transmission for Sussex Electric Cooperative, based in Sussex, N.J.

After losing power to its entire system, the co-op was able to restore service to all but one of its five substations by early Aug. 29. More than 5,200 of the co-op’s consumer-members were still waiting for their service to be restored.

“It may be one to two days before we have everyone reconnected,” said Tom Tate, manager of marketing and member services for New Jersey’s only electric cooperative.

Utility personnel from the Carolinas to New England cruised damaged areas in the hours after Hurricane Irene to assess damage. This vehicle was photographed on a flooded street in Columbia, N.C. (Photo By: The Associated Press)

Large numbers of co-op crews and contract personnel were already working in the field to restore power in several states. Even more crews and equipment were headed into the region, from Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and other states.

“We are ready to help those impacted by this dangerous storm,” said David Callis, vice president of statewide services for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

Nearly 100 lineworkers from several South Carolina co-ops are in Virginia, helping restore power at Northern Neck Electric Cooperative and Southside Electric Cooperative.

“Our guys are reporting that although there are significant power outages, the damage isn’t as bad as first thought,” said Todd Carter, vice president of Loss Control & Training at The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.

Flash flooding occurred in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, as remnants of the weather system collided with cooler air, causing high winds and heavy rains over much of the region.

“Crews worked through the night on outages that rotated from one circuit to another,” said Charlie McAlpin, manager of communications for Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative.

The Calais-based co-op’s 3,000-square-mile service territory was battered by 50 mph winds much of Sunday, said McAlpin. “Linemen would restore power to one circuit, only to find that another outage had occurred.”

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