Hurricane Ian: Tracking the Co-op Response

Updated: Oct. 4, 1 p.m. ET

Nearly a week after Hurricane Ian slammed into southwest Florida with 155 mph winds and historic storm surge, electric cooperatives are still restoring power, and completion of the work could take several more days for the hardest-hit co-op-served communities.

“After Hurricane Ian’s winds ripped through our service territory, almost 90%, or approximately 50,000, of Peace River Electric Cooperative’s member-consumers were left without power,” said PRECO CEO Randy Shaw. The Wauchula-based distribution co-op serves about 51,000 meters in 10 central Florida counties.

Aerial view over Wauchula, Fla., where Peace River EC and mutual aid crews have a base to eat, shower, sleep and have their clothes laundered while working to restore power after Hurricane Ian swept through on Sept. 30. (Photo Courtesy: Peace River EC)

After five days of restoration, almost 97% of services were restored. Many of the remaining homes were victims of Ian’s historic flooding or are currently inaccessible.

Co-op crews, backed by hundreds of mutual aid personnel from electric co-ops in eight states, helped get thousands of members reconnected as quickly and as safely as possible.

“In tough times like these, the core cooperative principle of cooperation among cooperatives takes on new meaning,” said Shaw. “Mutual aid crews are the lifeblood of storm restoration efforts following a major hurricane like Ian.”

Fewer than 1,800 PRECO meters were out of service Tuesday afternoon, and the co-op has told members that most homes capable of receiving power should be reconnected by Tuesday night.

Ian caused catastrophic damage to utility infrastructure across the service territory of Fort Myers-based Lee County Electric Cooperative, knocking out 99% of the co-op’s 219,000 meters within hours of landfall.

“Just over 41% of the six-county service territory has been restored over the past five days, excluding Sanibel and Pine Island, which are not accessible to line crews,” LCEC said in a statement released early Tuesday.

The co-op has deployed more than 1,000 line technicians, vegetation management contractors and support personnel working 16-hour shifts to assess and repair damage since Saturday. About 155,000 members were still out of service Tuesday afternoon, and additional personnel are being added to restoration efforts.

“The number of restoration workers will grow to 2,000 by this weekend as additional crews arrive today and tomorrow,” LCEC officials said. The co-op hopes to restore service to members who can safely receive power by Saturday.

Outages in Florida among all utility customers topped 2 million after the storm; that figure was down to 434,000 Tuesday morning.

Glades Electric Cooperative crews continue restoration efforts on Oct. 4 in the wake of Hurricane Ian. (Photo Courtesy: Glades EC)

Around 1,500 of Glades Electric Cooperative’s 17,000 members remained without power Tuesday morning. The Moore Haven-based co-op is keeping members informed with social media posts and reporting progress where lines can be accessed and safely repaired.

In three counties, more than 97% of meters have been restored, the co-op said, adding that reconnecting lines to serve individual members is continuing, and those require extra time to complete.

“As we restore areas, we’re able to reassign crews to the remaining areas, which will further facilitate restoration. We’re still hard at work, along with all of our mutual aid crews,” the co-op said.

Electric co-ops from 11 states sent more than 1,300 line technicians and support personnel into the Southeast to help with restoration. Several co-ops also released contract crews to join restoration efforts in the region. They are among 44,000 workers assisting utilities with storm-related repairs.

NRECA is working with the Electric Subsector Coordinating Council, made up of federal energy and utility interests, to help meet any fuel, materials or transportation challenges that might impact progress on repairs.

“NRECA continues holding regular calls with impacted co-ops, other utilities, and our government partners,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. “Despite the progress made [with help from] out-of-state workers who have been called in, this will be a lengthy effort. Some systems have been significantly damaged and requiring them to rebuild one pole at a time.”

After its Florida landfall, Ian moved inland through the Florida Peninsula and offshore into the Atlantic as a tropical storm, where it regained strength and made landfall along the South Carolina coast Friday as a Category 1 hurricane.

Electric cooperatives in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia experienced thousands of outages as Ian moved north. They began making repairs as winds subsided and weather conditions improved, and in many cases power was restored within hours. Crews worked through the weekend, and most remaining outages were cleared Monday.

The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season got off to a slow start, with Saharan dust and atmospheric conditions depressing storm formation. But a shift toward more normal weather patterns in September signaled what forecasters still expect to be a slightly above average storm season. The Atlantic hurricane season continues through the end of November.

Derrill Holly is a staff writer for NRECA.