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Santee Electric thanks members for patience during widespread power outage

  • Tuesday, February 18, 2014

By Tommy Howard

thoward@southstrandnews.com

By the time you read this in the print edition of the Georgetown Times, Santee Electric Cooperative hopes to have electricity restored for many more of its member-customers in Georgetown and nearby counties.

Spokesman Adrel Langley told the Times around mid-day Monday that some 500 additional linemen were working overtime to restore power.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley termed Winter Storm Pax “devastating.”

At its peak, Santee Electric Cooperative had 44,226 members affected by the storm.

At noon Monday, 3,102 customers in Georgetown County still did not have power. The other three counties in the service area were also seriously affected: 4,073 in Williamsburg, 2,947 in Clarendon and 3,894 in Florence.

As the day progressed, the numbers fluctuated. But with additional manpower on the job the number of people without power should improve.

One of the big challenges the utility faces is missing wire.

“We go out to put the lines back up and they are gone,” Langley said.

As for how much line is missing, “We have not begun to even caluclate those numbers. We just know there’s a significant cutback.”

“We have all available personnel working the outage,” she said.

Some people have complained that the Georgetown and several other offices are closed. That’s because the people who normally work there are helping in the main office in Kingstree to answer phones and schedule materials and personnel.

Bills are not being sent out right now, she continued.

“We have suspended penalties and cutbacks” for late payments, she said. All employees are focussed on helping restore power.

One of the concerns raised with co-op workers is whether people are being billed for electricity while their homes are without power.

It’s like a water spigot, she explained. When you turn the handle, water flows into the sink. When you turn the water off, no water passes through the pipes.

In the same way, if the power is cut off from the storm the electric meter is not running, “so no one is being charged for power” in that situation.

Santee Electric Cooperative serves rural areas of the state, and not an urban area.

As a comparison, in cities like Charleston and Columbia, there may be 1,800 customers per mile of line. In Georgetown, Williamsburg, Clarendon and Florence counties there are 5,000 miles of line. That works out to just seven member-customers per mile.

And with such a spread-out territory, a seemingly small thing impacts the effort.

“We had one guy working who was hit by a car. He has a broken leg.” That impacts the work.

With the line missing, the men who are out may have to make an extra trip to bring new line to replace what is no longer there, Langley said.

“Two of our guys had to go to the emergency room for other reasons.” Even with three people out, that affects the timing for power restoration.

A heart-warming experience many of the linemen have experienced is when members of the community bring the men lunch. The thoughtfulness is appreciated, and it also saves travel time for the crews.

The men aren’t simply working overtime, she said. They’re working double shifts, even. Some work 17 or 18 hours at a stretch, and then go home to their families in a dark house with no power, either.

“They want to get the job finished,” so they put in the extra hours.

“We know we have members who are extremely anxious to see their lights come back on,” said Floyd Keels, president and CEO of Santee Electric Cooperative. “We certainly understand their frustration and ant them to know that every employee at Santee Electric is working — in some way— to help restore power for everyone.

For a wide swath of South Carolina, including the territory served by Santee Electric, the 2014 winter

storm delivered as much damage to power systems as Hurricane Hugo in 1989. At the height of the storm, more than 350,000 people in South Carolina did not have electricity.

“State officials, from Gov. Haley on down, have worked every day to provide us every help we’ve requested,” says Keels. “We now hope to have most power restored no later than Friday.”

Linemen from seven states are working to assist the Santee Electric crews.

Hampering efforts to restore power are geography and terrain. Santee Electric comprises one of the largest geographic territories of any electric co-op East of the Mississippi River. SEC provides power to some of the state’s most rural areas. Low-lying wetlands, swamps and dense forests are all impediments for line crews

working in the field.

Even though district offices are closed for normal business, drive thru windows may be used to report

outages beginning Tuesday morning and members can reach a representative of Santee Electric

Cooperative at the following toll free numbers:

888-239-2300

Or

800-922-1604

Consumers can also keep up with the latest information by going to the SEC’s website at

www.santee.org.

“I want all of our members to know we take this process personally,” said Keels. “Many of our own employees and their families are still without power. All I can ask is that you please be as patient as possible and understand we won’t stop working until the power is back on.”

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