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Co-ops at Work

Co-ops Respond to Hurricane Harvey

Aid rushes to coast from all corners of the state to help restore power

Blaine Warzecha was lucky enough to travel home to see his wife and kids two days after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast. Thirty minutes later, he was headed back to work at Victoria Electric Cooperative, where the general manager and several of his employees have been since the Category 4 hurricane disrupted power to all 22,459 of the co-op’s meters starting Friday, August 25.

“My key staff has not left yet, either,” Warzecha said Thursday, August 31. “They’re not going to leave. That’s just a commitment that we’ve made.”

With the assistance of nearly 300 outside personnel, including mutual aid crews from electric cooperatives across Texas, Victoria EC had returned power to more than half its meters by Thursday. Staff was sleeping on air mattresses and cots, and munching on food donated by family members and doting co-op members.

That’s the scene playing out along the Texas coast and East Texas as co-ops from Robstown to Kirbyville continue to address outages that have affected some 160,000 meters. Floodwaters, especially in East Texas, still are making work difficult as support crews continue to arrive from more than one-third of the state’s 67 distribution electric cooperatives—some from as far away as the Texas Panhandle, and North and West Texas. By Thursday afternoon, August 31, fewer than 14,000 meters were without power because of the storm.

“I can’t say enough about the support that we’ve received from people all across the state—without hesitation, willing to leave their families to come restore power to our members,” Warzecha said. “That is truly touching. We will be there for them. I know it means a lot for our linemen.”

Nueces Electric Cooperative, based outside of Corpus Christi, was at the far southern end of the devastation.

“We were 100 percent back up by Sunday evening,” said Avan Irani, NEC’s chief operating officer. “So immediately after that, we were in touch with the two co-ops closest to us that were affected the most, San Patricio [Electric Cooperative] and Victoria Electric.”

Jackson Electric Cooperative, based in Edna, lost power to all its 15,258 meters at the peak, and Jackson EC lineman Jimmie Scott lost his home in the storm but continued working. “He has not missed a day of work,” said James Coleman, Jackson EC general manager.

Jasper-Newton Electric Cooperative, near the Louisiana border, still is dealing with massive flooding. A transmission outage took all of their 22,000 meters and some of Sam Houston Electric Cooperative’s meters offline Thursday evening.

August 28, 2017

Hurricane Harvey smashed directly into electric cooperatives along the Texas Gulf Coast as a Category 4 hurricane late Friday night, August 25, and accompanying rains created havoc for co-ops farther inland. San Patricio Electric Cooperative took the immediate brunt of the storm and sustained a near-total system outage, affecting 11,000 meters. Nearby Victoria Electric Cooperative and virtually its entire system of more than 22,000 meters were disabled. Nueces EC, west and south of Corpus Christi, reported nearly 8,000 meters out after the storm’s immediate impact. Jackson EC also suffered significant outages, and Guadalupe Valley EC saw approximately 18,000 of its members affected by the storm. Other co-ops in Texas sustained significant damage from high winds and flooding.

Storm-damaged co-ops welcomed the support of other co-op crews from all corners of the state to help restore power. As of noon Monday, more than a quarter of the state association’s members had contributed crews and other resources toward the restoration efforts, demonstrating the true spirit of cooperatives.

Victoria EC, Jackson EC and San Patricio EC’s restoration efforts were hindered by rising floodwaters from rivers and tributaries, limiting travel and adding uncertainty to the logistics of power restoration. Estimates indicate more than 55,000 co-op members lost power in Southeast and South Central Texas over the weekend.

In a news conference Monday afternoon, August 28, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the response of leaders on the Texas coast “immeasurable, courageous and heroic. I’m proud of the way they responded.”