United seven-man line crew comes to the restoration aid of
both Grayson Collin Electric Cooperative and Upshur Rural
Electric Cooperative following severe weather events.
A bat signal was cast United’s way on June 16 after a severe weather event made waves throughout Northeast Texas.
For upwards of a week, the Lone Star State was plagued with severe weather resulting in consistent heavy winds, frequent thunderstorms and large hail up to the size of golf balls. Although United’s service territory experienced minimal and temporary storm-related damage, other electric distribution co-ops further northeast were not as fortunate.
In a service territory stretching from Allen north to the Oklahoma border, Grayson-Collin Electric Cooperative (GCEC) experienced critical weather conditions with dangerous straight-line winds as the main culprit. As a result of the storm, GCEC reported downed wires and poles from fallen trees and wind. Lightning had ignited pole fires. Trees blocked most county roads, making it difficult for crews to access damaged areas and restore service.
“Starting out a restoration project at 35,000 meters without power is significant for Grayson-Collin Electric Cooperative,” said Ed Nuñez, United manager of operations. “After we got the call from GCEC on June 16 and our crew traveled out there to help, there were more than 10,000 meters without power still remaining.”
Thankfully, the majority of tree damage was focused near the power lines, and not in the proximity of residential property, said Chase Noland, United line crew chief. United crews banded together and restored power to GCEC members within a few days.
Not only was the GCEC restoration a teamwork effort, but it was also a family affair. Accompanying United Line Crew Chief Kenny Watson in support of GCEC was his wife, Annie Watson, Tri-County Electric Cooperative associate vice president of communications.
“Keeping members informed on a daily basis is my job at Tri-County Electric Cooperative, and I knew the technology to help answer phones for GCEC, so I was ready to help,” Annie said. “In the co-op world, we pitch in where we can. Whether that is helping to restore power, answering member contacts or making sure employees are fed. That was the way I was raised, and I am glad to work in an industry where I can help.”
By June 18, GCEC meters were successfully back up and running in only two days with the help of United and other neighboring co-ops.
“United’s assistance is the true embodiment of Co-op Principle 6—Cooperation Among Cooperatives,” said David McGinnis, GCEC CEO. “Mutual aid between co-ops is essential to our success in times like this. These guys will forever be part of the Grayson-Collin Electric Cooperative family.”
One Down, One to Go
Following the completion of the restoration focused in Grayson and Collin counties, the same United line crew traveled east to assist Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (URECC) in their daunting challenge of restoring more than 47,000 meters.
The same June 15 storm that devastated GCEC later tore through East Texas with even greater hostility. Given the outages this storm accrued, URECC reported 97 percent of their served meters were left without power, which is the most historic outage event for the co-op to date.
“The largest obstacle our crew experienced was having to assimilate to a different landscape than home,” Nuñez said. “The main difference between United’s service territory compared to URECC’s territory is the tree height. In East Texas, they have 100-foot tall trees. So when a structure that large falls due to a storm threat, the damage can be incredibly severe.”
URECC reported the storm damage to their system was widespread, not in a concentrated area, and there was substantial damage in many of those areas. As a result, most of the local counties surrounding Gilmer declared a state of emergency.
“There was quite a bit of destruction in URECC’s territory,” said Kenny Watson. “There were plenty of trees and lines down. It truly was a lot of hard work, especially because of how hot it was during this restoration.”
The line crew worked 16-hour shifts in 100-degree weather, all while handling various tasks from services to single or multi-phase lines, which refers to the distribution of a load, Nuñez said. Additionally, they were tasked with repairing circuits out of substations.
“We’re very motivated to stay safe in hot conditions by working as a team,” Watson said. “When we all work together, we help each other out and remind each other to stay hydrated. It’s also really important to watch your brother’s back and keep an eye on everyone to make sure no one is getting overheated.”
Despite the service area’s challenges and hot weather conditions, United volunteered to help both GCEC and URECC without hesitation. Extending a helping hand to neighboring cooperatives when possible is at the forefront of United’s principles.
“All of our operations teams working during this restoration were so grateful for United’s support,” said Angela Cannon, URECC marketing & communications department member. “United’s work was awesome, and we were so happy to have them help.”