Month: September 2020

Kentucky electric co-ops deploy 85 workers to help in Hurricane Sally recovery

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (September 17, 2020) – In response to a request from an electric cooperative in Alabama, 85 electric co-op employees from Kentucky are joining power restoration efforts after Hurricane Sally hammered the Gulf Coast on Wednesday.

The Category 2 hurricane made landfall early Wednesday in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Moving inland at only about 3 miles per hour, the storm has caused massive flooding and has knocked out power to more than a half-million homes and businesses in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. Kentucky co-op crews will help restore power to Baldwin EMC, a co-op that serves the area between Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, and includes Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

More than 78,000 consumer-members of the co-op have lost electric service as a result of the storm. The figure represents 97 percent of the cooperative’s meters. Baldwin has requested at least 1,600 co-op crewmembers to help in the effort.

“Power restoration efforts will begin just as soon as conditions are safe,” said Mark Ingram, Baldwin EMC vice president of corporate services and public relations. He explained that Sally’s strong winds and heavy rains have damaged power lines and equipment. Reports of downed trees and power lines with numerous power poles broken are coming in from across the Baldwin service area. There was also damage to some transmission lines that feed power to the substations and equipment in some locations is under water.

In addition to co-op employees, Kentucky co-ops have already released dozens of construction and right-of-way contract crews to respond to Hurricane Sally, and in recent weeks to Hurricane Laura in Louisiana. Through a careful coordination of mutual aid from co-ops across the Midwest and Southeast, co-op crews are assigned to specific co-ops in need of assistance. On daily conference calls, safety teams from each state assess optimal deployments.

The top priority of each local Kentucky co-op is service to its own consumer-members. Before committing resources to mutual aid requests, each co-op ensures it has ample crews available for all local needs, including routine maintenance and emergencies.

The list of Kentucky electric cooperatives set to deploy lineworkers includes Clark Energy, Cumberland Valley Electric, Fleming Mason Energy, Jackson Purchase Energy Cooperative, Kenergy, Nolin RECC, Owen Electric, Salt River Electric, Shelby Energy, South Kentucky RECC, Warren Rural Electric and West Kentucky RECC.

Photos and video of Kentucky electric cooperative crews gearing up and deploying on Thursday, September 17, 2020 are available at this link.

“Any hurricane response presents long hours in challenging conditions, and the flooding being experienced in Alabama adds yet another complication,” said Chris Perry, President and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “By responding to natural disasters in other states, Kentucky co-op crews gain invaluable experience to help them respond to outages here at home. We are praying for the safety of co-op crews and the people they are helping.”

In addition, United Utility Supply Cooperative is responding to Hurricane Sally needs. The Kentucky-based co-op has implemented its storm emergency plan, providing round-the-clock support to meet the material needs of co-ops. Prior to Sally making landfall, UUS sent supplies to electric co-ops in the storm’s path and ordered additional storm emergency material from manufacturers. A UUS warehouse in Prattville, Alabama is fully staffed and responding as co-ops assess the damage.

Because the national network of transmission and distribution infrastructure owned by electric cooperatives is built to federal standards, line crews from any co-op in America can arrive on the scene ready to provide emergency support, secure in their knowledge of the system’s engineering.

Gulf Coast Electric Co-ops Brace for Floods, Outages From Hurricane Sally

Electric cooperatives along the Gulf Coast are ready to respond to potentially widespread power outages when Hurricane Sally makes landfall by Wednesday morning, bringing a deluge that could cause historic flooding.

Co-ops in Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle are expected to be hit hardest.

Sally is “likely to produce extreme life-threatening flash flooding through Wednesday along, and just inland, of the central Gulf Coast from the western Florida Panhandle to far southwestern Mississippi,” the National Hurricane Center warned Tuesday, adding that “historic flooding is possible.” The National Weather Service predicted the hurricane would dump 10 to 20 inches of rain across the region, with isolated spots receiving up to 30 inches.

Ron Stewart, senior vice president of communications at Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, said the statewide association has been in constant contact with its member cooperatives and the co-ops are prepared to respond after Sally makes landfall. ECM has also been in contact with co-ops in other states in case outside crews are needed to help restore power.

“You never know how bad a hurricane is actually going to be until it hits, but you’ve got to be prepared,” Stewart said Tuesday. “You can’t be caught blindsided.”

For individual co-ops, getting ready for the hurricane means “making sure your vehicles are gassed up and loaded with the necessary equipment needed to restore power,” Stewart said.

“You also try to get word out to your membership to prepare for outages,” he said. “We’re definitely going to have some. And, it’s not safe to dispatch crews during the storm, so it may take some time to restore power. The vast majority of members understand that—they see what’s happening outside. But it never hurts to remind them.”

Widespread flooding could hamper crews after the hurricane has swept through, Stewart said.

“It’s hard to get crews out and about if we’ve got flooded highways and roads—even if the structures are still there.”

Some Mississippi co-op crews just recently returned home from helping Louisiana co-ops restore power after Hurricane Laura. Louisiana co-ops expect to be largely spared by Sally.

“I think the majority of our co-ops should be in the clear,” said Addie Armato, director of member engagement at the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives. “It’s been a sigh of relief; it really has. Our hearts go out to our neighboring states because this is not easy.”

As they continue with post-Laura restoration efforts, Louisiana co-ops will assess whether they are able to send crews to help co-ops in neighboring states, Armato said.

In Alabama, Baldwin EMC in Summerdale activated its disaster response plan Tuesday and had closed its offices as weather conditions worsened.

“We’re currently responding to outages and will continue to do so, weather permitting,” said Mark Ingram, vice president of corporate services and public relations. “As conditions deteriorate, we’ll pull our employees from the field for their safety. As the storm passes, our crews will be ready to restore power again as safely and quickly as possible.”

The co-op has stockpiled additional supplies, including poles, transformers, wire and other essential equipment.

All 22 Alabama co-ops are keeping a close eye on Sally, said the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives, citing the National Hurricane Center’s forecast of “dangerous storm surge, hurricane-force winds and flash flooding.” Alabama co-op crews are returning home from Louisiana after helping Beauregard Electric Cooperative Inc. restore power after Laura.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey closed the state’s beaches Monday and urged coastal residents to evacuate if possible. She said Alabama is “looking at record flooding.” Sally is expected to make landfall near Mobile Bay early Wednesday and move across central and south Alabama.

In Florida, Escambia River Electric Cooperative is preparing for the potential of major damage to its system.

“Our co-op may be significantly affected by high winds and heavy rainfall if Sally continues to intensify,” said CEO Ryan Campbell. “With safety as our top priority, we have activated our emergency response plan in anticipation of the storm. This includes contact with our statewide association to coordinate the arrival of additional utility crews should they be needed.”

The co-op urged its members to remain vigilant and prepare for possible outages.

“EREC has taken all precautionary measures, and our emergency preparedness team has confirmed that all preliminary requirements for the possibility of a major hurricane have been met,” Campbell said.

Erin Kelly is a staff writer at NRECA.

Co-ops Deal With Devastating Effects of Wildfires

Wildfires fueled by strong winds are ravaging western Oregon, destroying small towns served by electric cooperatives, forcing 500,000 people to flee their homes and spurring four co-ops to turn off power at night to avoid sparking new blazes.

More than 30 fires have burned through more than a million acres and killed at least 10 people, according to state officials. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said at a news conference that the disaster has the potential to be “the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfires in our state’s history.”

“I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t have a bag packed in western Oregon, including my family,” said Ted Case, executive director of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association in Wilsonville. “Everybody is on high alert.”

Case decided to evacuate his home with his family Friday as thick smoke filled his neighborhood from a fire about 15 miles away.

“It looks like Mars outside right now,” he said. “Everything is just red.”

Case said the wildfires have hit four of the state’s 18 co-ops hardest: Consumers Power Inc. in Philomath, Lane Electric Cooperative in Eugene, Blachly-Lane Electric Cooperative in Junction City and West Oregon Electric Cooperative in Vernonia. They have had to perform public safety power shutoffs at night to prevent igniting more fires.

“For those of you who appreciated the fire mitigation efforts we have just made, thank you,” Blachly-Lane officials wrote on their website. “For those of you who didn’t understand the cause of the Public Safety Power Shutoff, we’ll do our best in the coming weeks and months to explain it. We don’t have to look too far to see the devastating effects of fire to communities like ours, and we believe that this is the responsible thing to do. Mother Nature bats last, as they say, and sometimes it’s a curveball.”

The fires or threat of fires caused outages to thousands of the four co-ops’ meters, but they were in the process of restoring them quickly and the number of outages continued to drop, Case said. Hundreds of power poles have been lost. In “one piece of good news out of a whole lot of bad,” Consumers Power saved a major substation by digging a trench around it so flames wouldn’t reach the equipment, he said.

“The fact that it’s still standing is a real victory,” Case said.

However, the tiny mountain town of Detroit, which Consumers Power serves, was destroyed in the huge Santiam Fire, leaving its 200-plus residents without homes.

“That town was just devastated,” Case said.

Blue River, a picturesque town of about 800 people served by Lane Electric, was also reduced to ash and rubble by the separate Holiday Farm fire.

As emergency crews focused on evacuating people and saving lives, the extent of property damage in many places had not yet been determined. Members of co-ops’ operations staff were among those evacuated from their homes.

The Oregon co-ops that haven’t been badly hurt have sent help to the four hardest-hit co-ops, but it’s difficult for them to do as much as they’d like, Case said.

“It’s a challenge just to move around,” he said. “There’s just no ability to access mountain roads. Right now, it’s the fog of war. We just don’t know the extent of damage.”

When the time for recovery comes, help from those other co-op crews will be badly needed, he said.

“It’s going to be an incredible job to rebuild those systems,” Case said.

Meanwhile, farmers are filling the roads with trailers as they try to save goats, horses and other animals from the flames.

“The combination of the strong easterly winds and the dry weather make these fires difficult to contain,” Case said. “The flames are coming at you like a raging river. We still don’t know how many people didn’t make it out alive.”

Erin Kelly is a staff writer at NRECA.

UUS responds to natural disasters

United Utility Supply continues to help other cooperatively owned suppliers after devastating weather in both Iowa and Louisiana.

After the August 10 derecho wreaked $4 billion in destruction in Iowa, UUS supplied several truckloads of much needed transformers and line material for sister cooperatives.

Since Hurricane Laura made landfall August 26th, UUS has been providing materials and assistance to co-ops helping restore power and rebuild the systems of Louisiana cooperatives.

While assisting with disaster relief, UUS has been able to maintain commitments to its membership thanks in part to proactive planning in case of possible delays of materials from manufacturers due to the pandemic.

“Rest assured, our top priority is our member cooperatives and we will not do anything to jeopardize your needs,” says Gary Burnett, UUS Executive Vice-President. “But we stand ready to help other cooperatives in the time of need. Cooperation Among Cooperatives!”

Kentucky Electric Cooperatives continues to communicate with affected cooperatives in Louisiana regarding any potential mutual aid support. More than ten Kentucky co-ops representing about 70 crew members have indicated a willingness to respond, yet affected cooperatives in Louisiana are still assessing their needs.

The peak of the Atlantic hurricane season is almost here, and forecasters are watching four areas for possible tropical development this week as the calendar turns to September. An estimated 71% of hurricane activity is still yet to come. The National Hurricane Center is monitoring four systems, of which two have the highest chances of development. Both a system near the Carolinas and another in the Caribbean have a high chance of becoming a tropical depression.

List of canceled NRECA events

PowerUp, Sept. 21-23, Savannah, Ga.
Regions 1 & 4 Meeting, Sept. 9-11, Indianapolis, Ind.
Regions 5 & 6 Meeting, Sept. 15-17, Des Moines, Iowa
Gettysburg Leadership Experience, Sept. 23-25, Gettysburg, Pa.
Regions 7 & 9 Meeting, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, Omaha, Neb.
New Co-op Communicators Orientation (NCCO)–Fall, Arlington, Va.
Regions 2 & 3 Meeting, Oct. 12-14, Hollywood, Fla.
Regions 8 & 10 Meeting, Oct. 27-29, Little Rock, Ark.
NRECA PowerXchange (formerly NRECA Annual Meeting), Feb. 18-24, San Diego, Calif.
TechAdvantage Experience, Feb. 21-24, San Diego, Calif.ough Monday’s coronavirus