Power system still needs work
WORTHINGTON -- It's been nearly a month since ice-coated power lines caused thousands of wooden poles to snap and transmission structures to tumble, yet a drive through the countryside shows the massive amount of restoration work yet to be done.
Rick Burud, general manager of Nobles Cooperative Electric and Federated Rural Electric, said crews began making repairs as soon as power was restored to all rural electric customers.
"It's so massive a job, I've told people it will probably be a good year before all is repaired or replaced to a new condition," Burud said.
"We're trying to get both systems up to minimum safety standards," he said, "In a lot of places there are still lines down -- the neutral lines."
With farmers prepping to get into fields, Burud asks they avoid driving over downed lines and report them to the cooperative.
"That's what we've been working on now," he said. "With the snow and the mud, it just takes time."
Low-hanging lines are also a concern and should be reported so "we make sure we get them," he added.
Both cooperatives are working mile by mile -- in Nobles County it's from east to west, and in Jackson County it's west to east.
Burud said if poles are in fields and the wires aren't attached, farmers may move them into the ditch to get them out of the way. More than 2,000 power poles came down in Nobles County alone, with another 1,200 poles down in Jackson County.
The cooperative has hired Richter and Grant Engineers, of Rock Rapids, Iowa, to conduct a mile-by-mile staking and surveying of the damage to get exact numbers for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That process started one week ago today.
Also last week, Burud traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators about the disaster. The cooperative estimates it sustained $10.9 million in damage in Nobles County, and $5.9 million in Jackson County.
By Friday, President Barack Obama approved a federal disaster declaration, meaning FEMA will aid local governments and nonprofits like the electrical cooperative. With the declaration, 75 percent of the overall costs related to restoration and repair will be covered by federal funds.
"That other 25 percent will come either from the cooperative or the state," Burud said, adding that he's hopeful the state can provide some assistance. If not, cooperative members will share in the burden.
The disaster declaration doesn't help for-profit power companies like Alliant Energy, which brought in more than 325 linemen to restore power to customers in Rock, Nobles, Murray, Jackson and Cottonwood counties in Minnesota, and Lyon and Osceola counties in Iowa.
Alliant spokesperson Justin Foss said the company will simply have to absorb the costs, which are yet to be determined.
Alliant Energy has, for the most part, completed work for customers, said Foss. Crews are expected to return to the area to get the power grid switched back to its normal route eventually, but their first goal was to ensure all customers had power restored -- a task that took five days to complete.
"We had 225 electric distribution poles and 250 larger transmission structures that were damaged," Foss said. "A lot of them went down, and they either needed to get fixed or replaced."
More than 40 different Alliant Energy Operations Centers sent crews to southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa to complete the repairs -- the farthest traveling from Fort Madison, Iowa, in the southeast corner of the state. Three shipments of poles were brought in to make the repairs, coming as far away as Kansas City, Foss added.
"We did have sections where every single pole for three miles was broken," he shared. "It takes time (to make the repairs.) At the height, there were 7,000 customers without power."
in our future?
Nobles Cooperative Electric has approximately 990 rural miles of electrical line underground, with 1,154 miles of overhead lines, Burud said. That compares to 677 underground miles and 1,575 above-ground miles of power lines in Federated Rural Electric's territory.
"Nobles got hit in 1996 with a similar ice storm and much of (the lines) ended up going underground at that point," Burud said.
Now, he hopes to put more lines underground.
"I would guess that both cooperatives would ask for a significant portion of the main backbone to go underground at this point, to alleviate some of this in the future," Burud said. "Either way, it's going to take a lot (of money), simply because of the material you have to get."
Putting the electrical lines underground likely wouldn't take too long to complete. The largest share of the work would be to retire all of the overhead lines and utility poles, he added.
Foss said Alliant isn't considering putting any of its power lines underground.
"It makes sense to put some lines underground in certain situations, but as we've found, it is more often not cost-effective," Foss said.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.