Wisconsin energy co-ops heading south to make hurricane repairs
Two linemen from Rock Energy Cooperative joined crews from 17 other Wisconsin energy cooperatives to help rebuild Florida’s shattered electric systems in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s devastation.
More than 50 Wisconsin co-op employees, including Justin Busfield of Janesville and Brent LaBuy of Machesney Park, Ill., started their journey south on Monday.
The Florida Electric Cooperatives Association, a statewide trade group, put out a call for help Thursday, anticipating Irma’s Sunday morning landfall and the huge storm’s potential to batter the entire state. Early Monday morning, co-op vehicles began departing from local headquarters across the state for assembly points in Janesville, Eau Claire, Oakdale, and Portage. The crews are expected to arrive in Florida late Wednesday afternoon.
The Wisconsin crews are assigned to assist rebuilding at Clay Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Keystone Heights, Fla., northeast of Gainesville. As of Monday morning, Clay Electric had about 130,000 members—representing about 75 percent of its system—without power.
In addition to Rock Energy, participating co-ops include Adams-Columbia, Barron, Bayfield, Central Wisconsin, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire, Oakdale, Oconto, Pierce Pepin, Price, Richland, Riverland, Scenic Rivers, Taylor, Vernon and Dairyland.
Anticipating a lengthy rebuilding project, a second round of 24 co-op workers have been recruited for later rotation into the damaged area.
More than 40 vehicles were dispatched, including bucket trucks, pole-hauling trailers and digging equipment.
The relief mission is similar to assistance rendered by Wisconsin co-ops 12 years ago following Hurricane Katrina. Personnel from 14 Wisconsin electric cooperatives were dispatched over a four-week period to Louisiana on a rotating basis, helping to rebuild a local co-op distribution system that had been almost destroyed.
It’s also similar—on a larger scale—to the ROPE (Restoration of Power in an Emergency) program in which Wisconsin co-ops help each other shorten recovery times when severe weather damages local electric systems. On three occasions this year, 10 Wisconsin co-ops have loaned out line crews in ROPE deployments to help others speed up rebuilding storm-damaged systems.
Steve Freese, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association, captured this video of the Wisconsin co-op crews departing from Rock Energy Cooperative on Monday, Sept. 11. Line crews from 18 Wisconsin energy co-ops are joining in Florida’s massive recovery effort, helping rebuild shattered electric systems in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s devastation.