By Steven Johnson | Excerpted from an article on ECT.coop.
To tens of thousands of Mississippians and Louisianans without electricity after Hurricane Katrina, the appearance of co-op utility trucks rolling through hills, valleys and beaches must have looked as though the electric cavalry had arrived.
To the linemen and workers who labored to restore power, the trucks symbolized not just a cavalry troop, but a fraternity with a deep and lasting bond.
In this video (see “related links”), co-op members who came to help and those who received the help tell in their own words the story of how co-ops joined together to restore power in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“I think we’re the last of the great barn-builders in this country. I believe that with all my heart,” said Chuck Tiemann, loss control manager for the Alabama statewide, who coordinated his state’s crews in Louisiana.
“Linemen from North Dakota don’t have to come here. Linemen from Iowa don’t have to come here to restore power. That’s why I think we’re the last of the great barn-builders. We’ve got the spirit and we’ve got the attitude,” he said.
More than 9,500 linemen, right-of-way workers and contractors from 26 states, many of them representing co-ops, descended on the power-empty Gulf Coast, knowing they would tackle the biggest challenge to electric co-ops since the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration 70 years ago.
Don Jordan, general manager of Southern Pine EPA, Taylorsville, Miss., said the co-op hosted about 600 out-of-state employees in an 11-county service area within a week after Katrina cut through the region. About half of those were co-op workers from Missouri, Georgia and Kentucky, he said.
“Without their help, there’s no telling how long it would take us to get the power on,” he said.
Some 436 construction crews, mostly from co-ops, were working in territory served by Coast EPA, Bay St. Louis, Miss., a week after Katrina brought down its system.
Even on the generation side, Alabama Electric Co-op, a G&T located in Andalusia, agreed to reduce its output and purchase excess power from South Mississippi EPA, Hattiesburg. That helped South Mississippi stabilize its system because it wanted to ramp up generation, but had no customers to buy the power.
Jim Compton, general manager of South Mississippi, said: “They not only offered two crews, but they shed load for us at a time when we really needed it.”
“As far as co-ops, they’re like one big family,” said Darrell Bond, a working foreman from Escambia River Electric Co-op, Jay, Fla. “Co-ops help co-ops, and, most especially if you’re in need, that’s when they’re going to be there.”