Electric co-ops send teams to Florida after Hurricane Idalia strikes

Meanwhile in Louisiana, a co-op is using federal funds to improve its resilience against extreme weather events

Hurricane season in the USA has once again brought co-op values to the fore as electric co-ops rally to the aid of their counterparts in storm-ravaged states.

NRECA, the trade body for the rural electric co-op sector, reports that electric co-ops in Florida and Georgia have suffered more than 240,000 outages after Hurricane Idalia made landfall on 30 August as a Category 3 storm.

The storm has brought damage including blocked roads and floods to Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, with states of emergency declared, residents forced to evacuate and, to date, one reported death.

Principle 6 – co-operation among co-ops – saw co-ops in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama sent crews to assist in the restoration of power, which could take several days.

Among the co-ops affected are Tri-County Electric Cooperative in Madison, Florida, with 20,000 members left without electricity by midday as the storm hit. Crews were pulled from field operations on Tuesday night but were prepared to resume work as weather conditions improved, says NRECA.

“The damage to the electric grid is extremely extensive as is the damage to our beloved communities. At this time TCEC is assessing damage where we are able,” the co-op wrote on its Facebook page. “The challenge ahead will include completely rebuilding large parts of our system, replacing flooded and damaged equipment, while working safely through the destruction.”

It added: “We are also working alongside county road departments to assist with road clearing efforts and down power line removal, this remains a priority.

“Crews will operate out of our Madison Headquarters warehouse and a temporary base camp location in Taylor County. Spreading our resources in this manner will increase efficiency dramatically. All employees and mutual aid crews will work from sunup to sundown, seven days a week until all power is restored. Member service support will remain available 24 hours a day.”

Tri-State’s Facebook page sets out some of the background details of its support work, telling members how its The “breakfast crew fed over 200 linemen, right-of-way personnel, and employees a hot breakfast before they set out to start getting the lights on”, and updating followers about its efforts to keep the power on at its own HQ using a back-up generator.

The storm also hit Georgia where co-ops have been giving similar accounts of outages, and is currently causing chaos in South and North Carolina.

States sending co-op crews to help with the clear-up include Kentucky, with linemen and women from eight different Kentucky Electric Cooperatives (KEC) setting off for affected areas.

“We’ve been through hurricanes before,” KEC’s Joe Arnold told regional news outlet WKYT. “We know what kind of damage to expect. But we have to make sure the crews we have and the equipment they have is well suited to be able to respond to the areas that will be hit. For instance, if an area has a big storm surge in flooding, you have to make sure you have a vehicle that can handle the terrain after a storm surge comes through. In some cases crews might even be in boats.

“Don’t forget, some of the same areas where are crews will be heading … are co-ops who sent help to Kentucky during the windstorm in March and the ice storm prior to that.”

Meanwhile, co-ops in the southern states are considering ways to improve their resilience to extreme weather events. NRECA reports that Louisiana’s Jeff Davis Electric Cooperative, after four major hurricanes in 15 years, is relocating and hardening vulnerable segments of its system, using a US$350m hazard mitigation grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema)

Hurricane Laura, which brought 150mph winds to the state in August 2020, was “the worst storm we ever had,” CEO Mike Heinen told NRECA. “We lost everything, including 105 miles of 69-kilovolt line built on wooden poles and about 50 miles of a 138-kilovolt line built with H structures carrying our lines through marshland.”

Restoration work took 16 weeks of gruelling work by 800 personnel, often working 16-hour days – hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, which meant the constriction of a workers’ tent city twice the usual size, and by Hurricane Delta hitting the same area in October 2020.

The Fema grant covers about 90% of the costs of major improvements to 105 miles of JDEC’s transmission system and will allow the co-op to raise 10 of its substations at least one foot higher than the region’s 500-year floodplain.