As trees and power lines sagged and broke with the weight of the ice during Winter Storm Mara, the weight of the mammoth task of restoring power to thousands of members fell to PEC’s lineworkers.
“It was overwhelming,” said Heath Hamilton, PEC distribution operations technician. “You’d look across a field and see six or seven poles on the ground.”
The weight of the ice was extraordinary, and resulted in significantly more damage to the system than Winter Storm Uri caused in 2021. In many places, ice accumulation reached 3/4 of an inch. Just 1/2 inch of ice puts about 500 pounds of extra weight on the power line.
For lineworkers like Hamilton, it often felt like an uphill battle to repair equipment and restore service to our members, as work would be completed only to have equipment in the same area break farther up the line in a domino effect. In one case, an 18-wheeler snagged low-hanging communications lines and brought down poles that had just been repaired, a major setback for our crews and the members that rely on them.
“For me, it became personal,” Hamilton explained. “You’re trying to move and help more members and you hear the section you just built is down again. It’s hard to deal with.”
Hamilton works out of PEC’s Oak Hill district office, one of seven PEC districts in the territory. “When the ice hit, it was like everything broke at once,” he said. “Then as the ice thawed, a whole new wave of damage hit. We had 15,000 feet of line and 98 poles go down in our district alone.”
Just replacing a down pole is a major task that can take anywhere from one to six hours, depending on the repair needs. With the widespread nature of the damage, difficult weather conditions, and many of the outages in hard-to-reach terrain, it was clear that getting all members back online was going to take more time than anyone wanted.
It was an all-hands-on-deck restoration effort where lineworkers maxed out their shifts at 16 hours before being required to break for safety. “These outages are rough on members, but it’s hard on us too,” Hamilton said. “Our kids and wives are home without power, but we’ve got a job to get done.”
That all-out effort continued nonstop for over a week. Understandably, it is frustrating to be without power, so it can be a thankless job. Lineworker Appreciation Day is April 18; be sure to let a lineworker know it was a job well done.