Rio Grande Electrical Co-op hit hard by ice storm

By Cindy Edwards, Rio Grande Electrical Co-op —

There will be no Thanksgiving holiday for electric linemen at Rio Grande Electric Co-op (RGEC) because they will all be working on repairs caused by the recent severe ice storm. The storm took a 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 that more than 200 poles were broken because of the stress of the additional weight of ice on the lines and poles.

“Temperatures are coming up and the ice is melting,” said Dan Laws, General Manager and CEO of RGEC. “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 p.m.on 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 percent of the meters were without power, and in Crockett County, Texas, where 97.35 percent of meters were affected. RGEC serves 18 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 possible, RGEC utilizes Facebook.

Rio Grande's phone lines remain open. When a large volume of calls are received at once, calls go to voicemail, but action is taken on all calls. 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.”