Wyoming Co-op Grapples with 600 Downed Poles After Spring Storm

Lineworkers replaced rows and rows of power poles following an early April storm along the Nebraska panhandle. (Photo Courtesy: High West Energy)

Spring sprung backward on High West Energy when a storm with tornado-force winds took down more than 600 poles and knocked out power in its rural territory bordering Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado.

Mutual aid crews from four electric cooperatives helped High West restore power after bursts of 70-80 mph winds damaged substantial portions of the co-op’s infrastructure.

“The wind just ripped through,” said Jared Routh, CEO and general manager of the Pine Bluffs, Wyoming-based co-op. “It blew a lot of snow and ice onto the poles. The lines were already galloping, so the mass just took everything down.”

Footage from drone cameras showed paths of uprooted poles, twisted lines, and mud and desolation as far as the eye could see for High West, which serves about two meters per mile.

In one case, Routh said lineworkers needed to reinstall about 22 poles to get service to one member in a remote area. Another road had 30 to 40 poles on the ground like felled dominos, he said.

The storm struck overnight April 6-7, knocking out power to about 3,000 High West members at peak. Most of the damage was in High West’s Nebraska territory east of Kimball and north and south of the town of Potter. Routh said backfeeds and rerouting helped to minimize outage times for many members.

It affected other public power districts as well as the Western Area Power Administration, which reported more than a dozen damaged or destroyed H-frame transmission structures, mostly in western Nebraska.

Muddy conditions galore: Trucks were barely able to navigate through muck after an April storm passed through High West Energy’s territory. (Photo Courtesy: High West Energy)

Helping in the mutual aid effort were crews from Midwest Electric Cooperative Corp., Grant, Nebraska; High Plains Power, Fremont, Wyoming; Carbon Power and Light, Saratoga, Wyoming; and Wheatland Rural Electric Association, Wheatland, Wyoming.

“That’s essential for a smaller co-op like ours when we have this amount of damage,” Routh said. “We’re very appreciative to our co-op family.”

Crews battled extreme mud, and specialized equipment was used to move some trucks to navigable passages. Routh said initial work focused on communities south of Interstate 80, which bisects the co-op’s territory, as wet conditions north of Potter limited what the co-op could fix. “We were just getting stuck everywhere,” he said.

High West did not quite deplete its stockpile of power poles, Routh said, but a new order of about 250 poles shipped directly to repair sites to save time. The co-op expected to substantially complete repairs, including cleanup, by mid-April, he added.

“It’s a positive story,” Routh said. “We were prepared as anyone could be, but it is always a good test to show where we can improve for the unknowns.”

Steven Johnson is a contributing writer for NRECA.