As of 8 p.m. Monday, United Cooperative Services and crews from 11 other electric cooperatives and contractors restored service to the last remaining member who lost power as a result of the Feb. 21 ice storm, the worst storm-related outage event in the cooperative’s history. Banding together, more than 100 personnel worked 16 to 20-hour shifts to get the power restored.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this group of folks for responding the way they did to restore power to our membership,” said United CEO Cameron Smallwood. “More so, I’m most proud that all of these linemen, most of whom have never worked with or alongside each other, completed this restoration safely and without an accident. They did great work and they get to go home to their families because they did great work safely.”
When the Arctic weather front dipped further south and westerly than predicted, it left more than 8,000 United members residing in Erath, Palo Pinto and Hood counties without power. Ice accumulations of 1-2 inches thick snapped power lines designed to carry electrical current not hundreds of extra pounds of ice. In many cases the lines sagged as low as 10 feet, often tangling in trees at that level, or simply snapped and wound around thick brush below. Tree trimming crews cut paths through much of the dense brush and trees just so linemen could access lines, untangle them and carry them up the poles they had to climb.
The freezing weather and steady precipitation didn’t break until midday on Feb. 24, and the combination of the two elements had mired early progress as crews slogged their way through dense thickets and yards of mud to walk out, clear and repair damaged line. Equipment got stuck repeatedly, so fatigued crews carried equipment with them from pole to pole, and from one damaged span of line to the next, in the rain and in the cold. It took the crews about five days to complete the restoration of infrastructure damaged by one day’s worth of freezing drizzle, along with 48 hours of unrelenting rainfall that left terrain saturated and nearly inaccessible to heavy equipment.
The immense restoration effort, aided by the crews and equipment volunteered by 11 other electric cooperatives that included Bandera Electric Cooperative, Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, CoServ Electric, Hamilton Electric Cooperative, HILCO Electric Cooperative, Heart of Texas Electric Cooperative, Jasper-Newton Electric Cooperative, Lyntegar Electric Cooperative, San Bernard Electric Cooperative, South Plains Electric Cooperative and Tri-County Electric Cooperative (Okla.), was made in response to what will now rank among the most devastating weather-related outage/damage events recorded in United’s history.
Smallwood said recovery from the storm’s devastation would have taken much longer if the extra manpower and resources had not been available.
“If not for the help of our co-op friends, this restoration effort would have taken weeks rather than days,” he said. On behalf of our membership and cooperative, we can’t thank them enough for their willingness to help and the commitment their linemen have demonstrated throughout this event,” Smallwood said.
Once the restoration process began in earnest late Feb. 22 when temperatures rose above freezing and began to melt the ice, a systematic and organized strategy launched and crews started at each substation.
“They start work from the beginning of each substation feeder line and move outward because it’s the safest and most efficient way to handle an outage event of this magnitude,” said Smallwood. “The feeders are the primary infrastructure that carry the electricity to each electric ‘tap’ toward member homes/meters,” he added. “As crews repaired or replaced downed feeder lines, we energized those sections until we reached the end of the feeder. Other crews came behind the initial crews and addressed the ‘tap’ lines that serve the loads, which are our members’ homes.”
While this event proved challenging and caused a great deal of frustration among the membership affected by it, there was also a silver lining. Many United members donated drinks and goodies to the line crews throughout the restoration, not only providing nourishment to the body, but also lifting the morale of the fatigued linemen.
“Disaster often brings people and communities closer together,” Smallwood said. “United is a cooperative, which is a business model that succeeds because people, such as our members, first responders, general public, employees and our board of directors, work together for a greater good. All of us came together in this event and the greater good was a successful restoration that would have taken much longer had we not all cooperated.”
United continues to emphasize members to stay away from any downed power lines or electrical infrastructure. Assume it is energized and call United to report downed lines as soon as possible.