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Left in the dark: Ice storm snaps poles, damages transmission lines across area

Nobles Cooperative Electric linemen repair power lines on Sundberg Avenue, south of 320th Street Friday afternoon in high winds and blowing snow west of Round Lake. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)1 / 5
Linemen with Nobles Cooperative Electric discuss how best to repair power lines on Sundberg Avenue, south of 320th Street, Friday afternoon as winds gusted to more than 30 miles per hour. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)2 / 5
Power poles were snapped off along Roberts Avenue, just south of Indian Lake Baptist Church. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)3 / 5
Workers load up a trailer with repair parts at the Nobles Cooperative Electric main office Friday afternoon before heading back out to join the repair crews. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)4 / 5
An outage map on display in the main office at Nobles Cooperative Electric. Each red dot represents a customer without power. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)5 / 5

WORTHINGTON — Homes and businesses who have been on rolling blackouts since Thursday morning were expected to be back to full power restoration by midnight Friday, according to Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain.

“We’re ready to go once transmission is up,” Hain said late Friday afternoon. “We’ve got information from Great River Energy and ITC that we could have access to transmission from the outside world by 9 p.m. It could be limited.

“What we’re hoping is if we can get a feed from either of those (power providers) … we can cease rolling blackouts,” he added.

That’s great news for Worthington residents, businesses and local manufacturing companies who have lost two days of production.

JBS and Bedford are planning full production shifts on Saturday, he said.

While Worthington appears to be getting power in time for the weekend, rural residents will have to wait a bit longer.

With winds gusting up to more than 30 miles per hour Friday afternoon, linemen from Nobles Cooperative Electric and several other agencies were making repairs to utility poles as more than 4,000 of its customers remained without power — some since 4 p.m. Wednesday.

NCE Line Superintendent Brian Postma said 10 of 16 electrical substations in Nobles and Murray counties were still not operational as of 2 p.m. Friday. The goal is to have power restored to all customers by Monday night or Tuesday, he said. Some areas may get power sooner.

“It really depends on our transmission suppliers,” Postma said. “Until transmission suppliers get their power or poles up to energize their substations, we’re kind of in the dark, literally.”

The transmission suppliers include Great River Energy, ITC and Xcel Energy, all of whom have crews working to get the transmission lines operational so that substations can be powered. As of Friday afternoon, Great River Energy had 323 transmission line structures down on its system, and 15 substations without power. It supplies power to NCE, Federated Rural Electric in Jackson and Martin counties and 26 other member cooperatives.

“Once we get the energy there, we’ll be able to fire our subs up and determine where we need to fix stuff,” Postma said.

Working alongside crews from NCE are Runestone Electric Association of Alexandria, Highline Construction of Paynesville, Agralite Electric Cooperative of Benson, Meeker Rural Electric Association (REA) of Litchfield and McLeod REA of Glencoe.

“It’s the cooperative way for us to work together,” Haberman said. “That’s the nice thing about working with a bunch of cooperatives. Having other cooperatives with the same issues we have makes it a little more difficult to get people down here.”

Power outages in the NCE service territory extend from the Minnesota-Iowa line north to Lake Shetek, with some communities only losing power for brief periods of time, such as Slayton. Postma said the western side of Murray and Nobles counties were the hardest hit.

The mid-April ice storm fell exactly six years to the day that Nobles County was hit with its last major ice storm, on April 10, 2013.

“I think the ice really concentrated up in the Wilmont area, Lismore and Reading,” Postma said of the hardest hit areas this time around. “The predictions were three-quarters-of-an-inch of ice. It was kind of spot-on.”

Postma estimates 300 power poles — and as many as 500 — will need to be replaced in NCE’s service territory. There’s a mix of both 65-foot transmission lines and 35- to 40-foot standard power poles that came down in the storm.

The cooperative had about 150 wooden power poles on hand, and Postma said he has six loads slated for delivery to both the Worthington and Slayton locations.

The new poles are coming from Idaho and Wisconsin, and even that has been a challenge. One load out of Idaho got stalled for six hours in Rapid City, S.D., due to the closure of Interstate 90.

A material trailer was brought in from Fargo, N.D., filled with insulators and all of the other items needed to attach to power poles to hold the electrical line in place.

As crews are out working on the lines, NCE office staff are bundled in jackets as they continue to be inundated with phone calls with information about damaged power lines and concerns about when power will be restored.

“The majority are very understanding,” said Tracey Haberman, NCE’s member services manager. “They’re worried about their septics, their sump pumps. A lot of us don’t have power at home, either.”

“You’re going to have upset people,” added Postma. “They’re frustrated.”

They ask people to be patient, and also to stay away from downed power lines. Any updates regarding power supply will be posted to Nobles Cooperative Electric’s Facebook page.

Priti Patel, Great River Energy’s vice president and chief transmission officer, said in a press release late Friday afternoon that the situation is unprecedented and that GRE has never had so many damaged structures on the system at one time. They have mobilized more than 50 crew members to dive into what will be days of difficult, complex work.

“Our crews are working as fast as they safely can to restore power and repair the damage,” Patel said. “We have highly skilled crews on the job and we ask for your patience. The scope and magnitude of our restoration effort is huge, and the safety of our crews and our communities comes first as we work to get the lights back on and the system rebuilt.”

She said Great River Energy is working closely with Federated Rural Electric Association and neighboring utilities whose systems also sustained severe damage because the power line system is highly interconnected. Great River Energy said it’s hopeful that by the end of Monday it will have all of their substations that serve the Federated REA area back in service, though other repairs may be needed before power can be restored to some homes, farms and businesses. Transmission line repairs will be ongoing.

Worthington Public Utilities, which gets its power through an east and west feeder line from the Elk Substation, lost all power Thursday morning as the west feeder line went out at 4 a.m., followed by the east feeder line at 5 a.m. A third option for the city’s power is a transmission line from the Magnolia substation, but that was also out, according to Hain.

WPU relied solely on 14 megawatts of diesel generation to supply power to the city, noted Hain.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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