Southside Electric Cooperative

Crews from Southside Electric Cooperative have faced many challenges accessing downed power lines and restoring service following last weekend’s ice storms.

The massive ice storm event Saturday that engulfed Southside Electric Cooperative’s (SEC) 18-county service area, which includes Appomattox County, left as many as 48,000 members without electricity at one point.

In response to the forecasted weather devastation, SEC stated that it pre-staged significant amounts of materials and personnel in order to be prepared to restore power to members. In advance of the freezing weather, 18 mutual-aid crews, 10 contract crews and 8 contract tree crews were brought on board, as well as 26 of its own restoration crews. Subsequently, on Monday, an additional 10 contract crews arrived.

“Mother Nature dealt a severe blow to SEC’s distribution system on Saturday with heavy ice that has created multiple broken poles, broken cross arms and numerous downed power lines,” said SEC President and CEO Jeff Edwards on Monday. “SEC is committed to using all resources in our restoration efforts. We have everyone working diligently to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. This restoration will take several days due to the sheer damage that has been left behind. We appreciate everyone’s well wishes and patience as we repair the system.”

SEC Communications Specialist Jennifer I Wall stated that on a typical day, SEC has approximately 120 people in the field between SEC Operations, vegetation maintenance crews and contract construction crews. By Monday, SEC had 260 people working on the system — a 217 percent increase.

“Even with our extensive preparations,” said SEC Operation Vice-President Brad Furr on Monday, “this monumental storm dealt a significant blow with up to ¾ inches of freezing rain forming on trees and power lines. One issue that our crews continue to face is impassable secondary roads due to downed trees. Crews are clearing the trees with chainsaws to be able to get access to the seriously damaged infrastructure in order to restore power for our members. In addition, due to the saturated ground, many of our track and wheeled vehicles are unable to get to broken poles other than to carry in the poles and replacement wires on foot. All said, we are working around the clock with our SEC crews, mutual-aid crews, contract line crews and contract tree crews to safely restore power as quickly as possible.”

With rising temperatures, SEC expected ice melting, allowing crews to make progress on power restoration. As of noon on Monday, there were 605 outages affecting approximately 39,000 members. Specifically, there were 154 reported broken poles, 125 reported broken cross arms, 221 reports of downed wire and 50 circuit outages.

Due to the number of broken poles and damaged lines, SEC stated that restoration was going to take time. Based on how the system is designed, SEC crews work to first restore electricity on larger, three-phase lines that serve more members. If a SEC member is served by a single-phase line, it takes time to get their power flowing again. While progress was made, SEC stated Monday that it will likely be several days before all members have electricity. SEC apologized for this inconvenience and stated that it was working as quickly and safely as possible. 

“Southside was established to provide safe and reliable electricity to our membership,” said Director of Technical Services Joshua Wells. “This restoration effort takes sacrifice from everyone involved and is a huge collaboration effort of trust and cooperation. I am so proud to be a part of this SEC team.”

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