A one-two punch of winter weather left electric cooperative crews in Illinois dealing with repeated outages across several co-op systems.
Ice more than one-quarter inch thick accumulated on power lines Jan. 1, and “initially the outages were localized in the western portion of our service area,” said Steve Hancock, vice president of electric distribution for Bloomington-based Corn Belt Energy. In the following days, tree limbs weighed down with wet snow caused widespread outages across the co-op’s territory.
Between Dec. 31 and Jan. 8, Corn Belt Energy reported more than 27,000 weather-related outages across its 36,000-meter system, and crews were repeatedly dispatched to locations knocked offline after power was restored.
Around 80% of the outages experienced by Corn Belt Energy members were tree-related, said Ryan Campbell, the co-op’s manager of construction and maintenance. “Because of the vast amount of tree-related damage, we also brought in tree contractors with specialized equipment to assist us in removing trees from in and around the lines,” said Campbell.
At least a half dozen Illinois co-ops reported weather-related outages due to ice and wet snow accumulations and tree damage. Corn Belt Energy and two other distribution co-ops, Canton-based Spoon River EC and Paxton-based Eastern Illini EC, requested intrastate mutual aid from six other co-ops.
“After restoration at Eastern Illini was completed, some of those mutual aid line crews moved over to Corn Belt to assist,” said Valerie Cheatham, director of communications for the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives. The statewide association coordinates mutual aid requests on behalf of its member co-ops.
Staggered scheduling for crews in Corn Belt Energy’s territory allowed restoration work to continue around the clock. Visiting crews were kept sequestered while working restoration assignments because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Warmer weather this week is expected to allow the affected co-ops to close out their first weather event of 2021.
Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA.