Hurricane help sent from Illinois electric co-ops

After several long days of repairing Hurricane Sandy damage at New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, some of the Illinois electric co-op linemen gathered for a group picture. The Illinois co-ops sending help included: Adams Electric Cooperative, Corn Belt Energy, Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative, Egyptian Electric Cooperative Association, EnerStar Electric Cooperative, Jo-Carroll Energy, Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative, Shelby Electric Cooperative, SouthEastern Illinois Electric Cooperative, Tri-County Electric Cooperative and Wayne-White Counties Electric Cooperative.

Hurricane Sandy was a monster storm that hit the East Coast hard, leaving the member-owners of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative and millions of others without power. More than 50 linemen from 11 Illinois electric cooperatives volunteered to help our sister cooperative, headquartered in Plymouth, N.H.

Jim Bakas, Vice President of Operations & Engineering for New Hampshire Electric, said, “The Governor, the Public Utility Commission of New Hampshire, and the Emergency Operations Center of New Hampshire are well aware of the efforts provided by the Illinois electric co-op linemen to assist us during this event, as well as assisting in whole the State of New Hampshire. The men that represent all of the Illinois co-ops are first class, a lot of fun and great field ­workers. I also think they enjoyed meeting and working with our men.”

Rick Polley, who coordinates the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives’ (AIEC) Emergency Workplan in Springfield, said officials from New Hampshire Electric Cooperative called before the storm and because all of the available help from neighboring states had already been ­committed, the co-op was asking for help from states west of Ohio.

Polley said, “This is the first time we’ve sent crews that far east. On many occasions we’ve sent crews south to help out with hurricane damage.”

The National Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives has a mutual aid agreement that almost all U.S. electric co-ops have signed. But Polley said most of the ­disaster ­coordination is handled through individual statewide ­organizations like the AIEC.

In almost every storm of this magnitude utilities are ­criticized for their lack of quick response. Polley said, “I think because of the size of this storm and that criticism, they all tried to double their efforts.”

Polley said it is always a dilemma deciding how much help to call in before a storm actually hits. “You don’t really know how much help you need, or how much damage you’ll need to repair. It can take more than a day to just assess the ­damage. So you’re just making an educated guess.”

Storm damage from a hurricane or ice storm is often described as looking like a war zone. Polley said, “All the linemen know it could happen to their home territory and it is better to be on the volunteer side and sending help than the receiving end and asking for help. We could have ice storms this winter and be asking for a return favor.”

After finishing the job at New Hampshire Electric some of the Illinois co-op linemen went on to help Connecticut Light & Power restore power to its customers.

The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative is the only ­electric co-op in New Hampshire and serves more than 80,000 members in 115 towns and cities. The co-op has over 5,500 miles of energized line that traverse nine of the 10 counties.