Co-ops Combat Hurricane Damage

In the wake of Harvey, electric cooperative crews do what they do best—put the lights back on

Downed trees and lines are a common sight across parts of Texas as crews work to restore power after Hurricane Harvey, (Photo By: Bluebonnet Electric Co-op)
Downed trees and lines are a common sight across parts of Texas as crews work to restore power after Hurricane Harvey, (Photo By: Bluebonnet Electric Co-op)

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, electric cooperative crews in Texas moved quickly to assess damage and rebuild ravaged systems, but cautioned that full restoration could take weeks, in some cases.

“In the Rockport-Aransas Pass area it looks pretty bad,” said Ronald D. Hughes, CEO and general manager of San Patricio Electric Cooperative. “Restoration in that area is going to take up to two weeks or longer to get equipment in there and change out everything we need to replace.”

The Sinton, Texas-based distribution co-op lost service to about 8,000 of its 11,000 meters after Hurricane Harvey roared ashore at about 10 p.m. CDT Aug. 25. The Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph, made initial landfall at Rockport, just northeast of Corpus Christi.

San Patricio Electric was able to restore service to about 4,000 meters soon after its transmission provider re-energized substations in the area. But repairs to damaged transmission were still underway throughout the weekend. Power restoration to the remaining 3,500 affected meters could not begin until that work is completed, Hughes said. The co-op was working to get power to about 2,600 meters on Aug. 28.

Victoria Electric Cooperative was hit hard as the hurricane pushed inland early Aug. 26. It lost power to more than 23,000 meters as the hurricane stalled north of its headquarters in Victoria.

“Yesterday was assessment and that’s continuing today, but today we are starting to rebuild and restore our system slowly,” said Nina Campos, manager of human resources and communications at Victoria Electric. As of Aug. 28, the co-op has restored power to roughly 1,000 members, and called in 166 linemen from neighboring coops to help speed up the restoration process.

“This was a very different storm that I don’t think anyone could have prepared for,” said Campos. “We’ve had an unbelievable amount of rain and extremely damaging winds. Several areas of our service territory are flooded or flooding now.”

Crews splash through rain-slickened roads yo assess damage after Hurricane Harvey. (Photo By: Victoria Electric Co-op)
Crews splash through rain-slickened roads to assess damage after Hurricane Harvey. (Photo By: Victoria Electric Co-op)

Neighboring Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative reported more than 15,000 outages at the height of the storm. That number was down to just over 7,500 by midday Aug. 27 and about 2,600 by midday Aug. 28.

“The storm touched every single part of our service territory,” said Tammy K. Thompson, corporate communications and public relations manager for the Gonzales, Texas-based co-op. “We’ve got about 40 personnel in the field right now.”

“Our crews and contractors will be working until sundown and we’ll assess how we’ll proceed from there,” Thompson said.

Co-ops officials also warned members that flooding in some areas would slow or delay restoration because of difficulties maneuvering bucket truck and other heavy equipment in soaked or muddy ground.

“We have several outages in areas that we can’t even get to in order to begin damage assessment,” said Will Holford, spokesman for Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative. The Bastrop-based co-op restored service to circuits serving about 7,000 of its more than 84,000 meters, with only a handful still out by mid-afternoon Aug. 28.

Crews work from an air boat to restore power to Bluebonnet Electric Co-op members. (Photo By: Bluebonnet Electric Co-op)

“We’ve got crews in the field and we’re in contact with public safety and highway department personnel who will let us know when the water has receded,” said Holford. “That’s when we can get in and assess damage, make repairs and get everybody’s power back on.”

Nueces Electric Cooperative in Corpus Christi reported almost all of nearly 5,000 affected members were back on the grid by the evening of Aug. 27.

While co-ops will keep crews in the field until all members who can receive service safely have power restored, many homes and businesses inundated by flooding may have potential damage to their electric systems. Those who’ve suffered property damage might need to have their wiring checked out by qualified electricians, co-op officials said.

While Texas Electric Cooperatives has been prepared to help coordinate mutual aid crews, only Victoria Electric has requested help through the statewide association. Hardware and other restoration supplies are being dispatched as needed from the statewide’s manufacturing and distribution division.

Electric cooperatives serving members in the effected areas also continue to work with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which coordinates the state’s power grid. About 300,000 meters, primarily served by investor-owned utilities, were out of service at midday Aug. 27.

ERCOT officials have warned that more outages were likely to occur in the state due to flooding and other storm-related problems.

Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Aug. 28 to reflect changing outage numbers.

Read and view all of our Hurricane Harvey coverage.