Hurricane Idalia: Tracking the Electric Co-op Response

Updated: Sept. 5, 10 a.m. ET

After a busy Labor Day weekend for 2,000 electric cooperative lineworkers, contractors and tree crews, outages stood at around 18,000 on Tuesday for co-ops continuing to recover from Hurricane Idalia.

While repairs were completed within days to co-op systems in Georgia and the Carolinas, damage in Florida was far more extensive—requiring time, improving weather conditions and a lot of personnel.

Idalia made landfall 22 miles west of Perry, Florida, last Wednesday. With its 125-mph winds and massive flooding and storm surge, the Category 3 hurricane left more than 240,000 co-op-served meters out of service in Georgia and Florida, and coastal areas of the Carolinas also saw outages as remnants of the downgraded weather system moved into the Atlantic.

In Florida, Live Oak-based Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative and Madison-based Tri-County Electric Cooperative were the hardest hit.

SVEC has restored service to more than 17,000 of the nearly 28,000 members who were without power as Idalia roared inland and knocked out the co-op’s entire system. About 1,500 co-op line technicians, contractors and tree trimmers are continuing to clear debris and rebuild the co-op’s lines. More mutual aid crews were expected to arrive in the co-op’s 2,100-square-mile territory Tuesday.

Crews have discovered 1,113 broken poles and 354 damaged transformers on the co-op’s system, said SVEC CEO Mike McWaters. “Even though the job gets more challenging as we get farther into the hardest-hit areas, we won’t be discouraged, and we will continue to work as safely and quickly as possible to get everyone’s power back on.”

About 40 personnel are operating at support and staging sites where crews rest, restock and refuel, said Jon Little, SVEC’s director of communications. “They are being supported by 66 warehousemen, dispatchers and other administrative staff located at the storm response base camp.”

SVEC is using social media to keep members informed of their progress and to warn them to avoid scammers who identify themselves as SVEC representatives. The co-op said some members reported they’ve been contacted by telephone by individuals asking whether they are home or have power.

Idalia also shattered TCEC’s 20,000-meter system, toppling poles and leaving hundreds of miles of electric lines on the ground throughout its territory.

But with a beefed-up workforce and a steady stream of poles, hardware and conductor from suppliers, the co-op dramatically reduced its initial restoration estimate from two weeks to six days. 

With outages on the co-op’s system down to about 6,800 meters Tuesday morning, Kaitlynn Culpepper, TCEC’s community relations director, said the majority of members would have power back by the end of the day.

Debris removal help from county and state crews and the Florida National Guard improved access to hard-hit areas, and repairs to investor-owned transmission serving the co-op’s substations have been completed.

Elsewhere in Florida, Keystone Heights-based Clay Electric Cooperative faced about 30,000 outages in the immediate aftermath of Idalia and completed repairs to its last 1,300 member connections Saturday.

Central Florida Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Chiefland, reported 25,000 of its 34,000 meters out of service after the storm. More than 1,500 personnel assigned to restoration on the co-op’s 4,300-mile system are now working in areas where debris has been cleared and rights of way are accessible. About 1,300 members are still awaiting repairs.

“All employees and mutual aid crews will continue to work from sunup to sundown, seven days a week until all power is restored,” co-op officials said in a message posted on the CFEC website. “As larger outages are restored, smaller isolated outages are likely remaining in some areas. We will return to those smaller groups, and we will get the lights on for all.”

Quincy-based Talquin Electric Cooperative completed its storm repairs on Saturday, restoring power to more than 27,000 of its 55,000 meters.

In Georgia, where more than 131,000 utility customers in 12 counties lost power as Idalia pushed northeast toward the Atlantic, most outages were repaired by the end of the Labor Day weekend.

Derrill Holly is a staff writer for NRECA.