Sam Houston Electric Coop working to keep power on for consumer-members

Sam Houston Electric Cooperative line technicians had to remove fallen trees near Lake Livingston before restoring electric service following a recent storm.

April showers bring more than May flowers in East Texas. At times the showers turn into powerful storms, knocking out electrical service for extended periods.

Sam Houston Electric Cooperative experienced one such strong storm front on the Thursday evening before Easter. The widespread storm knocked out power to nearly 15,000 meters of the Cooperatives more than 76,000 meters–approximately 20 percent of the Cooperatives system.

The Cooperative has approximately 9,500 meters in Liberty County, nearly 1,200 were without power during the storm. Some consumer-members lost service because of lightning strikes, others were without power from trees or limbs landing on powerlines.

The storm’s biggest impact was around Lake Livingston and Polk County, but Liberty County also experienced prolonged outages that exceeded expected restoration times posted on the Cooperatives outage viewer site.

How long will my lights be off? How does Sam Houston EC determine where to dedicate restoration efforts at first?

Those are some of the common questions asked by members during and immediately following the outages.

Sam Houston EC encourages consumer-members to download its free mySamHouston app for android and iPhone users. Members can report their outage, see how widespread the outages are and see the estimated time of restoration for their area.

Members can also review their usage and pay their bill via the app as well.

Zack Johnson, Sam Houston Electric Cooperative line technician, trudges through a wall of vines and underbrush to restore service to a Cooperative member following last week’s storm in Liberty County.

“We are really encouraging all of our consumer-members to download and utilize the mySamHouston app,” said Chad Simon, communications specialist. “The app has so many features and enables our members to do the same things as calling in and speaking with a member service representative, or visiting our branch offices.”

The Cooperative has detailed forecasts of potential storms and prepares in advance of storms so line technicians can respond as soon as conditions allow them to safely respond. The line technicians can usually start responding to outages before a storm has completely passed, but restoring power isn’t as easy as flipping a switch.

“This storm’s high winds caused a lot of damage throughout the service area,” said Kenzie Moore, dispatch supervisor. “Almost every large outage was due to trees or limbs falling on the powerlines and tearing them down. All of which takes a lot more time for the line technicians to restore safely, and in some cases harder to even get to.”

The Cooperative placed more line technicians in the “on call” status and coordinated with several contractors to assist in the power restoration process prior to the storm’s start.

The Co-op assigns line technicians, supervisors and contractors based on the number of outages in areas. During the last storms the largest number of outages were concentrated around the Lake Livingston area and closer to the Huntsville portion of the 10-county service territory.

“Compared to other areas the southern portion of the service area was spared,” said David Babcock, Assistant General Manager. “While there were a few major outages, the damage was not as extensive as in area north and west of Livingston. We put our resources where they can be most effective in restoring as many meters as possible.”

A Sam Houston Electric Cooperative line technician shows damage from a lightning strike as Cooperative line technicians restored electric services following a resent storm in Liberty County. The lighting arrestor was replaced and service was restored.

Social distancing regulations presents more challenges to the Cooperative during major restoration events. Employees are keeping more distance between each other for those who can’t work remotely. Only one employee is allowed in each vehicle and usually line technicians work in pairs from their bucket trucks. The teams are now split in two vehicles, making communication harder at times.

“During most large storms, the dispatch room transforms into a command center with (department) chiefs and other supervisors gathering to review information and to pass on information,” Moore said.

“With the new social distancing protocols some were not able to be physically present, but they were just a phone call away. Crews that are usually paired up were separated which made us use extra caution when issuing clearances and assigning outages.”

Sam Houston EC strives to return power in all areas as quickly and efficiently as possible, but never at the expense the employees or members’ safety.

“Power was restored without incident. To me, that’s always the ultimate goal,” Moore said.

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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