Powering You Through: The Storm and The Clear
August 23, 2021
Electricity offers many everyday conveniences – lighting for homes, appliances for cooking, televisions, game consoles and tablets for entertainment, just to name a few. But when the power goes out, so does our team of dedicated line workers who work tirelessly to restore electricity during outages. Since 1937, Stearns Electric Association has been powering our member-consumers through the storm and the clear.
Stearns Electric Association serves over 27,000 member-consumers including residential, agricultural, and large and small commercial accounts. Our mission is to safely deliver reliable electricity, provide beneficial energy solutions and a positive member experience.
Providing consistent and reliable electricity would be impossible without the talented group of employees at Stearns Electric. During normal working hours, our engineering and operations (E & O) departments work together to install new electrical services, complete projects, clear Right-of-Way and manage the annual Cooperative work plan. But when storms arise and outages happen, the work shifts, and all focus is placed on restoring outages for all members.
POWERING YOU THROUGH THE STORM
Outages can happen at any time of the year in any condition – day, night, clear skies, thunderstorms, or blizzards. But many outages occur in the summertime.
Large storms can wreak havoc on the electrical distribution system, causing widespread outages and power line damage that takes hours, or sometimes even days, to repair.
“When strong storms roll through our service territory, we know we will be out for a while making repairs to restore outages,” Bob Barutt, line crew chief, explained. “And you never know what you’re going to face after a storm.”
“We know when it storms, the damage will be widespread and usually take many hours, or even days, to get power fully restored,” Darwin McGrane, line crew chief, said. “When you have trees down on power lines, you have to clear those trees before you can even access the power lines.”
Each of the linemen remember different summer storms that caused widespread damage to the Cooperative’s distribution system.
“In 2003 or 2004, over 4th of July weekend, it was hot, miserable and sticky. We worked for multiple days,” McGrane recalled. “I remember getting home at the end of my 16-hour shifts, sleeping for a few hours and heading back into work until all of the outages were restored.”
“I’ve been a part of many major outages, the worst one actually was in the winter. But the most recent large outage occurred during the storms that came through the area in the summer of 2016,” Barutt explained. “I was not on-call that weekend but got called in late to help repair the extensive damage. We changed out a lot of power poles that weekend.”
“We know it’s not enjoyable to be without power, especially on those hot summer days. We encourage you to be patient with us though,” McGrane stated. “Oftentimes, we have to come from our homes, get to the shop, then get our trucks and supplies. We then need to patrol the lines to find the outage cause, which takes time. We do our best working as quickly and safely as possible.”
When large outages happen, a team of individuals throughout the Cooperative work behind the scenes to help respond.
“When outage calls come in during working hours, our phones are ringing constantly. We are taking outage calls, putting notes into our outage system for line crews and making sure the outage map is as up-to-date as possible,” Barb Smed, E & O support specialist, said. “The more information we can share with line crews, the easier it is for them to identify and locate the cause, or causes, of the outage.”
“We do the best we can. We really want members to have their power restored as quickly as possible,” Sharon Wessel, E & O support specialist, added.
“We enjoy the challenge that comes with determining the cause of each outage and restoring the power to members,” McGrane explained.
POWERING YOU THROUGH THE CLEAR
Line workers might be top-of-mind for many members when their power goes out. But what does a typical day look like when there are no power outages?
Stearns Electric employs 22 linemen year-round. Each line crew is made up of two to five linemen, including a line crew chief. Each crew specializes in a specific area like underground lines, overhead lines or maintenance.
“We set a work schedule, usually week-by-week, for every line crew based upon the Cooperative’s annual work plan,” Jake Dooner, line superintendent explained. “However, it adjusts day-by-day based on many factors including outages, weather, employee leave and contractor schedules.”
To maintain electrical distribution system reliability, there are always projects happening.
“There is no lack of work,” Barutt said. “During normal working conditions, some of our summer projects involve upgrading or installing new services, and repairing underground faults, among other projects. In the winter, we do much of the same, but can’t complete the underground work easily as the ground is frozen. Instead, line crews use infrared technology to assess underground cable and patrol the power lines looking for needed repairs.”
Additionally, the E & O team works behind the scenes to handle incoming new electric service and service alteration requests, schedule appointments for our design engineers, and ensure the Cooperative’s meters and maps are communicating effectively.
“We take a lot of maintenance calls from members and troubleshoot their questions. Once we have an idea of what is going on with their electric service, we can connect them to the appropriate Cooperative department,” Wessel explained.
At the end of the day, all Cooperative employees take pride in what they do and enjoy working on behalf of the members.
“We enjoy what we do and always appreciate the ‘thank yous’ that come in from members. Getting recognized for our work is always nice, even if we are just doing our normal jobs,” Barutt concluded.
Through the storm or the clear, Stearns Electric is proud to serve members all day, every day, year-round.
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