East Coast Snowstorm: Co-ops Start 2022 With Power Restoration Challenges

Tree trimmers work closely with Delaware Electric Cooperative line crews to help clear limbs and other debris after high winds and heavy snow damaged power lines on the co-op’s system. (Photo By: DEC)

Updated: Jan. 5, 4 p.m.

Electric cooperative line crews and contractors have been working tirelessly to repair system damage after this week’s winter storm on the East Coast, but days of hard work remain before power is fully restored.

“What we are calling our Mutual Aid Army has joined with REC’s team in the field to make repairs caused by the storm’s devastating damage,” said Casey Hollins, managing director of communications and public relations for Fredericksburg, Virginia-based Rappahannock Electric Cooperative. “Crews and contractors from at least seven different states are arriving to ensure we restore power as quickly and safely as possible.”

REC initially lost service to about 90,000 of its 170,000 meters when heavy snow and high winds swept across its 22-county service territory. About 53,000 of its meters remained stalled Wednesday afternoon, and the co-op is informing members that it could be late this weekend or early next week before restoration work is completed.

Heavy, wet snow and high winds contributed to power outages affecting about 90,000 of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s 170,000 meters. (Photo By: REC)

More than 70 broken poles are being replaced across REC’s system, and crews expect to find more as they work to resolve 1,300 individual outage events, said Hollins, adding that roads covered with ice and snow or blocked by downed trees continue to slow field operations. Major roads in portions of the co-op’s service territory were impassable for more than a day, and in some areas, crews spent hours cutting and removing downed trees just to reach sites where repairs were needed.

Overall, the storm knocked out power to more than 160,000 meters served by the 15 distribution co-ops that belong to the Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives. Nine of the 13 co-ops serving Virginia are down to scattered outages, affecting only a few members. But with nearly 69,000 co-op meters in the state still out of service, about 150 lineworkers from North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania are helping Virginia-based crews with restoration and repairs.

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Arrington, had about 11,500 outages remaining. Crewe-based Southside Electric Cooperative reported about 2,800 meters still out Wednesday afternoon, and Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Warsaw, was working to restore service to about 1,600 meters.

Contract crews for Delaware Electric Cooperative clear broken limbs and toppled trees following this week’s winter storm. (Photo By: DEC)

In Maryland, Hughesville-based Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative had about 5,200 meters out of service Wednesday, down from an initial 78,600 outages, with some of those meters hit by multiple service interruptions.

“The majority of outages that we are working now have been caused by heavy snow on limbs and trees, which the crews must remove with chain saws before repairing power lines. We also have a lot of cross arms breaking, as well as poles,” said SMECO spokesman Tom Dennison.

Greenwood-based Delaware Electric Cooperative was pummeled by near-blizzard conditions Sunday night and early Monday, but the co-op wrapped up restoration work to its 7,000 affected meters Tuesday. Crews are now making permanent repairs even as the co-op warns members to expect several inches of additional snow by the weekend, raising the possibility of scattered outages.

And in North Carolina, Statesville-based EnergyUnited had 14,000 meters out of service in the immediate aftermath of the storm but completed restoration work Tuesday.

Derrill Holly is a staff writer for NRECA.