This month’s CEO message is a guest commentary from Tim Clay, WECA vice president of operations. WECA President and CEO Steve Freese is currently on medical leave.
Whether it was straight-line winds or a tornado this past summer, the damage was severe and took my power out for most of the week. Yet, a short distance away, my co-op’s linemen—joined by crews from Jackson Electric Cooperative—were working to clear twisted trees, replace broken electric poles, and repair powerlines to restore service to a community they had likely never visited before.
For more than 60 years, all of Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives have participated in a mutual assistance program that gives co-ops access to additional manpower and resources during times of emergency. Take, for example, the December 15 storm that affected several cooperatives and resulted in more than 35,000 co-op outages across the state.
As they say, what goes around comes around. Adams-Columbia, my electric cooperative that needed Jackson Electric Cooperative’s help last summer, ended up joining other line crews to help Jackson recover from the December 15 storm. In all, hundreds of co-op line crews and contractors from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin came to help eight electric cooperatives that took the brunt of the storm around the same time many people were making preparations for their Christmas vacation. In most cases, the individuals that come to help are under no obligation—they volunteer to do it—and knew they would be working in freezing temperatures, knew they would likely be working 16-hour shifts, knew they would be working until they were no longer needed, and knew they would make a difference.
When disaster strikes, people tend to want to help, and I would have jumped at the opportunity to work alongside those line crews that were ultimately helping me when my power was out. However, I’m not a lineman and don’t have the training to work on or near powerlines. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that a powerline caught up in trees or lying on the ground is energized, and that’s often where people can become seriously hurt or worse by making a poor assumption. Utility crews are trained to always test and implement protections against a line becoming energized, for example, by an improperly connected home generator that can backfeed electricity into the electric system.
So instead of joining the line crews, I put my chainsaw to work, helping Jen and Randy, two people I had never met before, clear trees from their yard on County JJ.
I am always amazed by the professionalism of the hundreds of men and women working for electric cooperatives, striving to ensure the lights are always on. Even more so, dedication becomes their passion when Mother Nature throws a curveball. When working with our members doing our part in a disaster, I often speak with co-op employees still doing their job at the co-op, knowing that their own home was also damaged and without power from the same weather event.
This past snow/ice storm caused widespread damage in areas at levels not seen in decades. Yet, when the call went out for help to co-ops across the region, they responded like they always do. It was a challenge to even access powerlines, and in some areas, roads were impassible for days. Line crews worked in waist-deep snow in places where vehicles couldn’t go. In four days, employees worked more time than they normally would in two weeks. Just a week later, many of these same people returned to the phones and rights-of-way when an arctic blast hit the state on December 23 with wind gusts in excess of 50 mph and windchills below -30 in most parts of the state. My sincere appreciation goes to the men and women who choose this path of service and set aside their own lives when the focus becomes restoring electric power. Thank you for taking care of me and my family last summer, and for working so hard for all members in December and always.