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United Utility Supply keeps electricity flowing

Kentucky-based cooperative supplies poles, transformers and parts to 17 states

The reliability of your local electric cooperative depends on many factors, such as a consistent power supply, a dedicated workforce, proactive maintenance and clear rights of way. Behind the scenes, your co-op has another key ingredient to stay reliable: United Utility Supply (UUS).

All of the poles, transformers, wires and parts that help safely deliver electricity to homes and businesses have to be in supply all year long and especially when disasters strike, and the supplier needs to be ready to get those materials to electric co-ops when it matters.

Recognized as one of the leading material supply organizations serving the rural electric co-op market, UUS supplies a complete line of materials critical to the electric utility industry. When it was founded by Kentucky co-ops in 1948, UUS began purchasing line equipment, hardware and materials for its member systems. At that time, construction materials were extremely difficult to obtain and individual cooperatives found it virtually impossible to generate and leverage the volume needed within the marketplace.

By pooling their resources and working together, Kentucky’s electric co-ops created an organization so successful and reliable that co-ops from other states clamored to join. Though UUS is still headquartered in Kentucky, it now serves 17 states with warehouses in Ohio, Illinois, Alabama and Pennsylvania.

United Utility Supply Vice President of Operations Phil Clark checks the inventory of transformers. Photo: Chris Hayes

“At UUS, our mission is to support our local cooperatives in good times and bad,” says Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives and UUS. “Our co-ops know that UUS is committed and readily available during emergencies. Wire, hardware, poles and transformers are in inventory and ready to be moved when needed.”

Visitors to the UUS Cooperative Distribution Center in Louisville are greeted by a sea of transformers neatly lining the floor of the 175,000-square-foot warehouse. Nearly every conceivable piece of material needed to operate an electrical utility is stacked in long rows: conductors, pole-line hardware, lighting, underground accessories, grounding equipment, guy wires, insulators, personal protective equipment, distribution and transmission poles, utility tools and safety supplies.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, UUS enacted a series of safety protocols to ensure both the safety of employees and the reliable delivery of the materials needed to keep electric co-ops running. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security classifies it as an “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce” during COVID-19 response.

“With this classification, we are allowed to continue our daily operations while practicing safety guidelines for all of our employees and members,” says Gary Burnett, UUS executive vice president. “Being proactive with our manufacturers at the beginning of this crisis, we continue to receive utility products at all of our facilities on a daily basis, thus assuring our co-op members we’ll be able to provide them with quality products and superior services throughout the duration.”

To comply with social distancing guidelines, UUS delivery drivers notify members within one to two hours prior to a truck arriving. Drivers then adhere to the specific safety requirements set by each electric co-op.

“Reliable products and reliable service coupled with competitive pricing are hallmarks of the UUS role as a leading distributor and partner to our member co-ops,” Perry says. “Because some of the new employees at local co-ops are not aware that member co-ops own UUS, our team has worked to educate co-ops that we are more than simply another vendor. UUS is a cooperative partner and has returned more than $1.8 million in capital credits to electric co-ops in the last two years.

“We have responded to tornadoes and ice storms, hurricanes and floods,” Perry says. “We’re here to make sure that our member co-ops have what they need to help their consumer-members through this crisis.”

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