The damaging June 16th storms brought heavy rainfall, hazardous wind, hail, and lightning, causing widespread property and infrastructure damage. With that came an unprecedented number of long-term power outages throughout East Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. Following, Governor Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 21 (**) Texas counties, including 7 of the 9 counties WCEC serves: Camp, Franklin, Hopkins, Smith, Titus, Upshur and Wood. While Van Zandt and Rains counties weren’t included in the declaration, both suffered power outages too.
Whether you were affected by the outages or not, we are letting you know what happened. We are also offering preparation tips for when these types of events take place, because while you may not have been affected this time, there is always potential.
THE JUNE 16th STORM – At peak, WCEC had almost half of our system, over 18,387 meters, without power. Lines were wrapped by the high winds, fuses and transformers were blown by lightning, and trees broke power poles, splintered crossarms and tore down line. Additionally, AEP’s transmission system that delivers power to our entire region sustained damage on par with a hurricane.
During our efforts to get members restored, overwhelmingly, grace, positivity and encouragement was extended to our employees, contractor crews and co-op mutual aid crews. We thank you for that. Crews worked in daunting conditions, including continued storms and a 108 degree heat index.
As the hours turned to days, frustrations boiled over and we received a few criticisms, but frankly, much less than we expected. Since we work for you we owe you honest and open communications always. So we want to talk about what transpired with this event.
TREES AND RIGHT-OF-WAY TRIMMING – A principle contributor to outages in the rural areas we serve are trees. During and following storms, tree outages spike. We have a utility easement that gives WCEC the legal right to clear 15’ on both sides of our distribution lines. Of note, many of the trees are well over 15’ feet tall, so while they are cleared 15’ back, they are still a threat to our poles and wires if they fall. Our system encompasses over 5,237 miles of distribution, transmission and underground line. Of that, we have 3,900 miles of line that we must trim. Keeping pace with tree growth along these rights-of-was is challenging. As we work to keep pace with tree growth, trimming is done on a rotating cycle, supplemented with trouble tree work.
Maintaining our rights-of-way comes with considerable cost; the single largest controllable expense in our operating budget is attributable to right-of-way. There are currently 11 in-house and contractor crews that provide support for maintaining our rights-of-way. We are constantly evaluating our right-of-way program while remaining cognizant of the fact that all costs are ultimately borne by our members.
As a non-profit electric co-op, all costs are passed on to our members. We must balance the realities of our beautiful rural and treed region with safety, electricity reliability and costs. In East Texas, trees will always be a challenge, but we do work hard to mitigate these. Members can help with that by avoiding planting trees in or near rights-of-way, maintaining their own properties, and reporting trouble trees.
STAFFING LEVELS – Prior to the storm that hit our system, Bowie Cass EC had incurred damage from storms on June 14. One of our founding principles is cooperation among cooperatives. On June 15th we put this principle into action by sending crews to help them. The next round of storms hit us, and our crews arrived home on the early morning of the 16th to work on our system.
In addition to all of our linemen and right-of-way crews, we were joined by three contract crews, and mutual aid crews from Cherokee County EC and Trinity Valley EC. Men are not machines, but in this case they acted like it, working intensively on 16 hour rotating shifts. They gave it their all. We are grateful to them. With their help we cleared our outages well before many other area providers. Then, we were able to send a couple of our men right back to Bowie-Cass to continue helping them. After all, we know they’d do the same for us.
RESTORATION TIME PREDICTIONS – With the number of outages and damage spanning such a broad area, in the immediate aftermath it was impossible to predict restoration times with any reliability. As we completed our assessments of our distribution system and made our restoration plan – we worked in the areas that would restore the most members as quickly and as safely as possible. Once we were able, we began communicating more specific data about work and timelines on our distribution system.
Our transmission provider, AEP/SWEPCO, also had severe damage to multiple points of their transmission system that brings power to the region. Because of this, they could not send power to three substations that serve our members in Mt. Vernon, Cypress Springs, near Winnsboro and Hawkins. This affected over 4,500 meters. Our distribution system in these regions was also damaged. While there was no electricity coming in, we worked to get our system in shape so that when the transmission was restored, we’d be able to send it to members.
Regrettably, we were unable to offer any clarity to those affected by the transmission loss because AEP was unable to communicate their damage assessment or their progress due to large scale damage of their system from Shreveport spanning all of East Texas. The only information we had from them was to expect similar time-frames to those posted on their website for areas such as Marshall and Longview. The advise was to plan to be without power until sometime on Friday, June 23rd.
Fortunately, on the afternoon of Monday, June 19, we learned that they were working on the lines that feed our area. But we still did not know the extent of damage or better timelines. Thankfully, they restored transmission feed late Monday night. We know they worked exceedingly hard, and we are grateful to them for this. Going forward, we will be working with them to get improved communications, so we can keep our members more fully informed during AEP/SWEPCO transmission outages.
OUTAGE REPORTING IS CRITICAL – Some members were without power a couple of days longer than they needed to be, simply because they did not report their own outages. It is essential that every single member report every outage they experience. For your own sake, please don’t depend on a neighbor.
Your outage report is individual to your meter. A circuit could be out that is affecting both you and multiple neighbors. But you could also have an individual problem like a blown transformer or fuse, that crews have not seen. If we get the circuit up and running, we may believe all meters on the circuit are restored, and we’ll close out the outage. If you’ve reported your outage, you’ll get a return call to inform you that we believe your power is on. That way, you’ll know to report it again. Reporting an outage is quick and easy via our APP, or a text or a call to the high-volume line at (866) 415-2951. It only takes seconds and will get you the quickest help.
Members can also call our regular phone line 903-763-2203, but during high-volume events, there could be a wait. After hours, we have a call service that answers, so 24/7, there is someone available to answer. But as phones overload, wait times grow. For a simple outage report, we ask members to use the high-volume line. This frees up the regular business line for emergency reports, like live lines on the ground. Plus, it’s just the fastest way for you to get trucks rolling to help you.
Is Your Contact Info Up-To-Date?
During emergencies we may send texts, emails, and make calls. During emergency situations, we make our very best effort to communicate personally and Facebook and our website. If your information has changed, don’t wait until an emergency. Please sign on to the portal and update it. Or, give us a call at 903-765-2203 and we’ll do it for you.
BACK UP PLAN – While we strive to provide uninterrupted service, circumstances beyond anyone’s control can cause unplanned outages of varying duration. It is, and always will be impossible to guarantee uninterrupted service. Following weather-related and other disasters, it can take days to restore service, depending on the level of damage. Therefore, it is imperative and incumbent upon each member, especially those who are medically fragile including those on oxygen, to have a backup plan to ensure their own safety and care. This could include: backup battery power for medical equipment, a portable or fixed generator, or a relocation site that can serve your individual needs. We hope there is never a time you have to use it, but being proactive and prepared will ensure that your important needs are met.
POST STORM – During storm repairs, we perform a great deal of temporary work to restore power as quickly as possible. Once the dust settles, we must go back out and perform permanent repairs. This clean-up can cause additional outages, but generally of shorter duration. We regret the potential for more outages, but it’s a reality following damaging storms, so we’d rather keep you informed of this, even when the very idea is frustrating.
Due to the widespread damage in our area from this event, and the disaster declaration, there’s the potential for some state and/or federal reimbursement for costs incurred. We are currently in the process of collecting and reporting these costs, to hopefully help defray the financial impact.
From an individual standpoint we encourage you to visit the Texas Department of Emergency Managements website to report your own damages https://damage.tdem.texas.gov/ This collective data will help all with possible assistance.
OUR THANKS – When challenges like the recent storm take place, we do absolutely everything we can to get the lights back on. That’s because we work for you, but we are also your neighbors and your community members. When you hurt, we do too. Honestly, we would not want to live or serve anywhere else. In this storm and aftermath, you rallied around each other, and you rallied around us. Even when we did not have any words of near-term hope to give. We thank each one of you for that. We are exceedingly grateful to have the best members in co-op country.
** COUNTIES COVERED UNDER THE JUNE 16, 2023 DISASTER DECLARATION
Camp, Cass, Fisher, Franklin, Gregg, Hopkins, Harrison, Jones, Kent, Marion, Morris, Motley, Nolan, Ochiltree, Panola, Shelby, Smith, Stonewall, Titus, Upshur, and Wood counties.
HIGH-VOLUME OUTAGE REPORTING 3 WAYS
My WCEC App – Search for “Wood County Electric Cooperative” in the App Store or in Google Play and download. Use your online account to log in.
Outage Texting & Calling: (866) 415-2951 – The system works on caller ID technology. To text or call in an outage, your telephone numbers must be in our computer database. If you’ve changed your number recently, update it in the Account Service Portal or give us a call at (903) 763-2203.
To Report an Outage: Text “OUT” to (866) 415-2951
For Status Updates: Text “STATUS” to (866) 415-2951
To Un-enroll: Text the word “STOP” to (866) 415-2951
A return message, “Your location is unknown”, means we don’t have your mobile number in our records associated with your account.
Calling in an Outage: (866) 415-2951 – This allows en-masse calls.
- Be prepared by having your WCEC account number or phone number that is on file with WCEC available.
- Dial toll free (866) 415-2951.
- Listen for information regarding any large-scale outages.
- Follow simple prompts
- The system notifies a dispatcher to direct crews to the outage location.
The system offers a callback feature to be notified when power is restored.
HOW THE POWER RESTORATION PROCESS WORKS
The process is to safely address the issues that get the most meters on the fastest, and those that feed critical infrastructure like medical facilities, water districts, grocery stores, first responders’ facilities and the like. Delays to restoring power to those facilities could happen when transmission lines are down or substations are inoperable.
Power is first generated at a plant, travels along transmission lines and then goes to our substations where we distribute it to you. There are a lot of lines and moving parts to bring power to your meter, and the cause of an outage can happen in area. The closer to the generation facility the problem happens, the more meters will be affected. The closer to your meter the problem occurs, generally the less meters will be affected. The chart below depicts the process.