US electric co-ops rush to respond to Hurricane Ian

‘In tough times like these, the core co-operative principle of co-operation among co-operatives takes on new meaning’

Electric co-ops in the USA have joined the efforts to clear up after Hurricane Ian, the deadly Atlantic storm which several communities in Florida and the Carolinas last week.

The 155mph hurricane, one of the worst on record, also caused huge damage in western Cuba, and hit Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Colombia, ABC islands, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Estimates put the death toll at more than 130, including five in Cuba, 120 in Florida, and five in North Carolina as of October 5. There was widespread flooding, with losses currently estimated at US$50bn, and millions were left without power.

In Florida alone, power outages among all utility customers topped 2 million after the storm – but that figure was down to 434,000 Tuesday morning, reports NRECA, the umbrella body for the USA’s rural electric co-ops.

Related: US co-op organisations team up for Hurricane Ian relief

Electric co-operatives in the Carolinas and Virginia experienced thousands of outages as Ian moved north, NRECA adds. They began making repairs as conditions improved, and in many cases power was restored within hours.

Electric co-ops from 11 states, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, sent more than 1,300 line technicians and support personnel into the Southeast to help with restoration. Several co-ops also released contract crews to join restoration efforts in the region. They are among 44,000 workers assisting utilities with storm-related repairs.

In blog post on its website, NRECA said it was working with the Electric Subsector Coordinating Council, made up of federal energy and utility interests, to help meet any fuel, materials or transportation challenges that might hamper repairs.

“NRECA continues holding regular calls with impacted co-ops, other utilities, and our government partners,” said CEO Jim Matheson. “Despite the progress made with help from out-of-state workers who have been called in, this will be a lengthy effort. Some systems have been significantly damaged and requiring them to rebuild one pole at a time.”

Among co-ops rushing to help from other states is Wiregrass Electric Cooperative, based in Hartford, Alabama, which sent a six-person crew to help Peace River Electric Co-op, which lost power to more than 90% of the 50,000 homes and businesses it serves in central Florida.

After five days of restoration, almost 97% of services were restored. Many of the remaining homes were flooded by the storm or are currently inaccessible, says NRECA.

“In tough times like these, the core co-operative principle of co-operation among co-operatives takes on new meaning,” Peace River CEO Randy Shaw told NRECA. “Mutual aid crews are the lifeblood of storm restoration efforts following a major hurricane like Ian.”

Electric co-ops within Florida have also stepped up to observe principle 6. Keys Weekly reported that Florida Keys Electric Cooperative (FKEC) sent crews, equipment, and material in response to a call for help from Glades Electric Cooperative, which has 17,000 members in Glades, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee counties. 

FKEC sent three two-person journeymen linemen teams and a line superintendent with three bucket trucks, a pickup truck and a digger truck towing a back-yard lift are responding to the request for assistance from Glades Electric Cooperative. It also sent a general storekeeper to Peace River.

“At FKEC, we know all about the importance of mutual aid. Five years ago, we had outside assistant crews here helping us restore power after Hurricane Irma,” CEO Scott Newberry told Keys Weekly. “This will be a marathon, not a sprint, and we will continue working with our fellow electric cooperatives to support them however we can.”