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Heroes Respond to Southern Louisiana

Sept. 1, 2021
VP of Content, Energy, Teresa Hansen shares her thoughts on mutual assistance after a huge effort from U.S. utilities to head to the Southeast.

Hurricane Ida has already made history as one of the strongest hurricanes to ever make landfall in the United States. It is currently responsible for destroying much of Entergy’s T&D grid in New Orleans and surrounding areas, as well as a portion of the utility’s system in Mississippi. In its earliest updates on Monday morning, Entergy reported 888,229 power outages in Louisiana and 45,324 in Mississippi. At that time, the company also reported 216 substations, 207 transmission lines, and more than 2,000 miles of transmission lines out of service. On Wednesday morning, Entergy had just over 769,000 customers still without power in Louisiana and around 11,200 in Mississippi. The utility was still assessing damage as its crews worked to gain access to some of the hardest hit areas. T&D World’s editors are working hard to keep you up to date on Entergy’s damage assessments and restoration efforts. We’re also sharing photos from the storm-ravaged areas.

Entergy certainly has the most work ahead of it when it comes to repairing its infrastructure and restoring power, but it is not the only electricity provider to suffer catastrophic damage. According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), about 200,000 co-op member customers were without power on Monday.

In fact, some of hardest hit areas are serviced by co-ops. Especially hard hit is South Louisiana Electric Cooperative Association (SLECA), which serves Houma and Amelia Louisiana. SLECA is faced with restoring power to nearly all its 21,000 plus meters. According to a Facebook post on SLECA’s page, most of Southeast Louisiana lost its communications infrastructure. The post says “cell phone service is spotty and landlines are being rendered virtually unusable.” In addition to SLECA, Washington-St. Tammany Electric Cooperative, which serves areas north of New Orleans, and DEMCO, which serves areas near Baton Rouge, were also hit hard. DEMCO reports 60 downed transmission poles as well as over 300 three-phase poles. On Tuesday morning, the cooperative reported more than 85,000 customers had no power.

I’m very familiar with the investor-owned utility (IOU) mutual assistance programs. According to information from Edison Electric Institute’s website, by early Tuesday morning, more than 25,000 workers from at least 32 states and the District of Columbia were mobilized to assist with restoration efforts. I’ve seen this type of cooperation and assistance from IOUs time and time again and would expect no less.

I wasn’t sure how it worked with co-ops, but it didn’t take me long to discover that co-ops also have a robust mutual assistance program. A Hurricane Ida tracking report published Monday afternoon on the NRECA’s website, said that utility crews from co-ops in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas are already arriving in Southern Louisiana to assist. In addition, electric and vegetation management contractor crews are helping in the impacted areas. Mutual assistance goes beyond just repairing the physical infrastructure. For example, Beauregard Electric Cooperative, located in Southwestern Louisiana, dodged the storm and is aiding SLECA by assigning its customer service representatives to serve as a temporary call center while SLECA recovers from the storm. This is just one of what I’m sure are many similar scenarios playing out across the damaged areas.

Other than first responders, I can’t think of another industry where assistance is rendered so generously. Electric utility service and repair workers, whether from large IOUs or smaller co-ops, are heroes.

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