When Winter Storm Wesley ripped through southern Minnesota on April 11, crews from Great River Energy, neighboring utilities and member-owner cooperatives got to work clearing fallen poles from roads, setting new poles, stringing wire and bringing the power back to the more than 8,300 end-use members who experienced an outage.
All of the substations Great River Energy supplies power to that had been out of service were restored by the evening of Tuesday, April 16. More than 100 of the 352 power poles that had fallen had been replaced by Thursday, April 18, as well.
It was difficult early on to know how much damage the storm had caused because visibility was poor and many roads were unsafe to drive, making them inaccessible to line crews waiting to assess the damage.
“This was unprecedented for us. We have never had anywhere near this many structures down at once on our system,” said Priti Patel, Great River Energy’s vice president and chief transmission officer. “Our crews focused first on public safety as they worked to restore power and repair the damage to our system. We have highly skilled crews, and they performed exceptionally well. Our line crews, system operators, engineers and support employees deserve our gratitude for all they did to return power to our member-owners.”
Member-owner cooperatives Nobles Cooperative Electric, Federated Rural Electric Association and South Central Electric Association were hit particularly hard. Neighboring utilities (Xcel Energy and ITC) also had significant damage to their systems. Great River Energy coordinated with member-owners and neighboring utilities as they worked together to bring the power back because the power line system is highly interconnected.
Other member-owner cooperatives including Connexus Energy, Dakota Electric Association, East Central Energy, Goodhue County Electric Cooperative Association, Lake Region Electric Cooperative, Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative and Stearns Electric Association sent line crews to People’s Energy Cooperative in southern Minnesota to assist with damage done to the distribution system.
Though all member-consumers have had their power restored, there’s a lot of work still left to be done. It will take a few weeks for crews to replace more than 200 more power poles and finish cleaning up around rights of way.
“Local businesses have been a huge support for us during these challenging conditions,” said Paul Orndorff, leader of transmission construction and maintenance contracts at Great River Energy. “They’ve given free food to line crews and even delivered donated food right to the work site. They supported us as we worked safely and quickly to restore power.”
At the peak of restoration, Great River Energy had more than 54 line crews working in the area to restore power.