By Kent Singer, Executive Director
I’m sure almost everyone reading this column experienced the “bomb cyclone” that swept over Colorado in mid-March, bringing with it a lot of snow and high wind. It was an unusually strong storm, and certainly created havoc for anyone trying to get anywhere. Many people were stranded on the roads and heroic first responders stayed busy rescuing motorists and others around the state. Tragically, a member of the Colorado State Patrol was killed while attempting to assist a motorist during the storm.
The bomb cyclone also damaged electric utility poles and lines all across the state. Co-op line crews worked long hours in extreme conditions to restore power. For electric co-ops, the responsibility to keep the lights on and homes warm is one we take seriously. Co-op line crews pride themselves on taking care of the folks at the end of the line because they know that everyone expects to be able to flip the switch and have the lights go on. Electric service has become so reliable that we expect it to be available regardless of the weather conditions.
For electric lineworkers, there is always a tension between wanting to restore power quickly and making sure safe workplace practices are followed in difficult conditions. I know I speak for all electricity consumers when I say that I’m fine being without power for a couple extra hours if it means that the crews will go home safely after the work is done. We all need to be patient when it comes to the infrequent outages that occur.
As an Xcel Energy customer who lives in Denver, the bomb cyclone resulted in a nearly 24-hour outage at our house, the longest we have been without power in the 35 years we have lived here. It’s so easy to forget that without electricity there is no heat, no hot water, no refrigeration, no television and no internet. When all the creature comforts we take for granted are no longer available, we are quickly reminded that electricity is essential to modern life.
It’s no small task to make electricity available; it takes thousands of folks working in unison to run the facilities that generate the power, transmit it over long transmission lines and eventually deliver it to your house. Since electricity is consumed at exactly the same moment it is generated, the coordination between all of these elements of the grid has to be seamless and precise. Although there are lots of new distributed sources of electricity coming from rooftops and other customer-sited sources in co-op territory, most of the electricity that keeps the lights on in Colorado still comes from large plants and is transmitted through high voltage lines. We owe a debt of gratitude to all the people who keep the grid up and running.
Since National Lineman Appreciation Day is observed in April, this is a great time to tell your local electric co-op line crews that you appreciate their hard work and dedication to the job. After all, when the next bomb cyclone comes roaring across Colorado, co-op crews will be the ones picking up the pieces after the storm.
Kent Singer is the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for your electric co-op, the 21 other electric co-ops in Colorado and its power supply co-op.