There will be no Thanksgiving holiday for electric linemen at Rio Grande Electric Co-op. They will all be working, thanks to a severe ice storm, which has taken a steep toll on the electric cooperative with the largest service territory in the contiguous United States. The distribution system in RGEC’s West Texas service area has been decimated, leaving customers without power in the midst of the coldest weather of the season.
RGEC estimates approximately 200 + poles have been broken due to the stress of the additional weight of ice on the lines and poles. The pole loss count is Alpine – 100 and growing, Dell City 80 and growing, Ft. Stockton, 20 +/- and stable. There are only estimates at this point, because many of the roads and rights of ways are still impassable, making an accurate count impossible. Weather conditions are expected to improve in the coming days, but even that doesn’t mean the Co-op’s worries are over. GM/CEO Dan Laws explained, “Temperatures are coming up and the ice is melting. As the lines shed the ice load, they can react violently, slapping phases together. In addition, it alters the weight loading on the poles, and even more will snap.”
Lineworkers from other portions of the Cooperative’s service territory have been assisting in the Alpine, Dell City, and Ft. Stockton operations areas, and RGEC has hired contractor crews. There are currently four contractor crews repairing RGEC line, and two more crews are on the way.
Compounding the problem with RGEC’s own system, is the fact that the transmission provider’s lines are also down to Fort Davis, Marfa, Presidio, Redford, and additional towns. Because RGEC is a distribution cooperative, it must rely on transmission providers to route the power to its substations, where it is stepped down to a voltage which is usable by residential consumers.
As of 2:00 p.m. Monday, the outage map on the Co-op’s website showed a total of 2,891 outages, with the highest percentages of outage occurring in Eddy County, New Mexico, where 98.82% of the meters were without power, and in Crockett County, Texas, where 97.35% of meters were affected. RGEC serves eighteen counties in Texas, and two in New Mexico.
The Co-op’s dispatch team has been inundated with calls from customers wanting to know when power would be restored. To keep members updated, as much as is possible, in such a situation, RGEC utilizes Facebook. Last night, GM/CEO Laws posted a message to all those affected. He explained the situation, and gave an example of the frustration faced by the linemen working to restore power, “Last night the crew worked until 3 AM in the morning to restore power in one area. A brand new pole was set and the crew headed on to the next job. One hour later the new pole snapped. I tell you that story because it is illustrative of what we are experiencing everywhere.
Last night, the crew worked until 3 AM to restore power in one area. A brand new pole was set and the crew headed on to the next job. One hour later, the new pole snapped. I tell you that story because it is illustrative of what we are experiencing everywhere.”
Rio Grande’s phone lines remain open. When a large volume of calls are received at once, calls go to voicemail, but all are reviewed and acted upon. RGEC advises callers to have their meter number available when calling.
“We will rebuild the system as quickly as possible, but I’m not going to sugar-coat it,” said Catarino Aranda, Dell City Area Operations Supervisor, “We are not miracle-workers. The damage is extensive and widespread, and it will take time.”