US electric co-ops work to meet demand from harsh winter

A look at some of the many responses from the sector to the power crisis brought on by the severe snow and ice storms

Electric co-ops in several US states have been struggling to meet energy demands after the country was hit by harsh winter weather.

The spike in demand came as ice and snowstorms hit the country and temperatures plummeted, causing widespread outages which left millions without power and forced rolling blackouts in more than a dozen states.

The storms have left a reported 21 people dead and have covered more than 70% of the country in snow.

Texas was hardest-hit, with more than 4 million customers without power on Tuesday. Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, and New Mexico were also affected.

Among electric co-ops reporting problems is North Arkansas Electric Cooperative which is asking members to immediately limit the use of electric service to ensure members will continue to receive at least a minimum of service.

The crisis saw the system of mutual support between electric co-ops across the country – in line with principle 6, co-operation among co-operatives – kick in. Arkansas Electric Cooperatives is among state co-op associations which has said it will rely on mutual assistance to respond to outages.

“As with any severe weather situation the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas are monitoring the weather and potential power outages, crews are on alert to safely and efficiently addressing any issues,” said a spokesperson. “Arkansas’ 17 electric distribution co-operatives have mutual aid agreements to assist each other in the event of outages in co-operative service areas.

“Additionally, Arkansas’ co-operatives have construction and right-of-way crews at Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc., the cooperative’s statewide association, (and they) are available to assist with power restoration efforts. Also, many of the state’s electric co-operatives have arrangements with utility power-line work contractors.”

Co-ops calling on members to limit consumption include Howell-Oregon Electric Co-operative in Missouri, which suggests such measures as turning thermstats down a few degrees and putting on warm clothing; limiting the use of large appliances; and turning off unused electronics, chargers, and lights.

Not all outages are controlled; some were a direct result of the weather, caused by problems such as the weight of accumulated ice bringing down trees and powerlines.

Outages include one affecting 900 members of Farmers Electric Cooperative in Daviess County, Kentucky. The co-op managed to restore power after four hours to the affected areas, around Gallatin and Lake Viking area.

In its most recent update, on 17 February, Kentucky Electric Cooperatives tweeted: “60,261 consumer-members without power. In last 24 hours, crews have restored service to about 40,000 members. In addition to each co-op’s own crews, about 750 additional personnel are assisting, including 465 contract employees & 285 mutual aid linemen.”

In an earlier tweet, the organisation warned that the damage seemed to be “widespread and comprehensive”.

Kentucky Electric Cooperatives also acknowledged the support of Jefferson Energy Co-op which sent a crew from Georgia to help restore power.

At the peak of the crisis, the Oklahoma Association of Electric Co-operativs said there more than 37,000 outages affecting members, declaring an emergency alert. This has since been downgraded and controlled outages have stopped but customers have been urged to reduced energy use.

Heart of Texas Electric Co-op has been running regular outage updates on its website, with problems including blown fuses and damage to poles and wires.

“Staff and crew are continuing to do everything possible 24/7,” it said. “Huge thanks to our linemen, staff, members, contractors, other co-ops aiding us, warehouse, and volunteers for assisting us in these extreme circumstances. The linemen continue to work in difficult and extreme conditions, thanks, gentlemen for everything.”

“Due to the increase in power usage caused by the colder than normal temperatures and strain on the electrical infrastructure, our grid and transmission operators are no longer able to meet the demand of the network of transmission lines, and as a result load-shedding measures have become necessary until further notice,” said the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives in a statement on Tuesday. “At this time, Louisiana electric cooperatives have not been given an estimated time on how long these load-shedding outages will last.”

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