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Relentless storms, resilient response

Co-ops respond to natural disasters with a little help from our friends

Farmers RECC line foremen Brian Caswell, left, and Scotty Mitchell provide mutual aid to Big Sandy RECC in Lowmansville. Photo: Kraig Shireman/Big Sandy RECC
Employees of East Kentucky Power Cooperative and contractors rebuild a transmission line in Magoffin County. Photo: Tim Webb
Crews work through the night to restore power. This crew, from Flint Energies, Georgia, restores power for Clark Energy in Bath County. Photo: Tony Dempsey
Cody Byrd with Davis H. Elliot is one of over 300 lineworkers working to restore power for Jackson Energy Cooperative. Here he repairs an ice-laden, three-phase line in Laurel County. Photo: Justin Bingham

IMAGINE SCALING a 40-foot ice-covered utility pole to perform highly technical and physically demanding tasks in a dangerous environment, knowing that countless people are depending on you. 

That’s a typical moment for the heroic electric cooperative line technicians who worked double shifts for weeks to restore power after ice storms devastated the electric infrastructure in much of Kentucky. More than 100,000 co-op consumer-members lost power at the height of the storms in mid-February. 

Over an eight-day period, a large portion of the commonwealth sustained a relentless assault of ice and snow with back-to-back-to-back winter storms. 

Cooperative effort 

Natural disasters like this require determination and resilience, and thankfully electric cooperatives are blessed with lineworkers who are committed to restoring power and keeping everyone safe. 

Because electric cooperatives are led and owned by the people they serve, many of the local crews who responded to this crisis restored power to others while their own homes were still without electric service. 

Meanwhile, more than 425 mutual aid electric cooperative line technicians from sister co-ops in Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, Virginia and Tennessee bolstered power restoration. In all, more than 1,000 people worked more than 300,000 hours to restore power, fighting not only ice and snow but floodwaters in early March. 

Crews didn’t just repair the infrastructure; in many cases they had to rebuild an electrical system that took decades to construct. Early reports indicate at least 500 utility poles were broken by the tremendous weight of the ice and snow. Because electric co-ops serve the last mile in the most remote and rural areas of Kentucky, much of the damage was not accessible by road. Crews had to use ATVs, track machines with army tank-like treads and drones, also hiking through debris and snow to reach damaged areas. 

Inter-County Energy 1st Class Line Technician Jason Murphy puts on personal protective equipment to ground a line and fix a broken pole in Lincoln County. Photo: Morgan Janssen/Inter-County Energy

The best of Kentucky 

Agencies, county and state crews, the Kentucky National Guard and local governments stepped up to serve during this crisis. Kentucky-based United Utility Supply made sure co-ops had all the materials needed to restore power as quickly as possible. 

Despite one of the worst disasters Kentucky co-ops have ever seen, co-op crews exhibited and received the best of Kentucky. Co-op consumer-members greeted them with hot coffee and warm smiles. Local churches and volunteers kept them well fed and feeling appreciated. Children made signs and waved to crews from their front porches as bucket trucks labored through the ice and snow. 

It was neighbors being neighbors the Kentucky way. Lineworkers have done their job, so it’s now our job to say thank you. It’s the cooperative way.

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