SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Employees of Sioux Valley Energy patrolled 6,100 miles of line in its distribution area after the May 12 derecho, said Carrie Vugteveen, vice president of public relations for the electrical cooperative. They found damage that cut power to more than 12,000 members at the height, Vugteveen said.

The 12,000 members represent 40% of the system, she said.

Sioux Valley Energy’s (SVE) system may have taken the brunt of the derecho but all “eight of our eastern cooperatives were impacted,” Billy Gibson, the director of communications for the South Dakota Rural Electric Association, said of the storm.

In some cases, the damage was so great and so widespread, cooperatives and even large private electrical companies could not fix all the damage without extra help

When that happens, cooperatives and municipalities have mutual aid agreements for outside help.

“They’re in place, so there is not a lot of discussion (when a storm hits),” Gibson said.

Electrical cooperatives will first assess the damage, which can take a half day or full day, depending on the severity of the storm, he said.

“We have mutual aid agreements with both South Dakota and Minnesota cooperatives. We put in a formal request for mutual assistance through our statewide organizations – the South Dakota Rural Electric Association and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association,” Vugteveen said.

SVE had 69 additional field personnel come in to help SVE restore power, Vugteveen said. South Dakota cooperatives included FEM Electric, Northern Electric and Central Electric helped.  

“We also had 10 people from InterCon Construction based out of Wisconsin and 22 people from Legacy Power Line, Inc. which based out of Minnesota. Additionally we had crews from Friest Tree Experts out of Harrisburg,” Vugteveen said.

Gibson said personnel from cooperatives from the west side of the state were able to help with the May 12 damage.

Xcel Energy brought in at least 1,200 employees from out-of-state to help restore power to thousands of customers in Sioux Falls, said Lacey Nygard of media relations for the company.

Nygard said contractors from 12 other states also helped in Sioux Falls. At the peak, 36,000 customers lost power on May 12 but some of those were only momentary losses, she said. Between 6,000 to 7,000 customers had sustained power outages, she said.

Power pole down at 26th Street and Williams Avenue
Power pole down at 26th Street and Williams Avenue after May 12 storm

The city of Sioux Falls sent municipal workers to help several nearby cities including Madison, said the city’s emergency manager Regan Smith.

Smith said Xcel and other electrical suppliers in the city were among the partners that shared information during and after the storm.

Gibson said local cooperatives can often handle fixing lines and replacing poles but repairing a transmission line or transmission substation may require outside help.

East River Electric and Key Electric helped the city of Watertown with a transmission line, said utility director of operations Bert Magstadt said.

Although the transmission line was damage and so were poles and lines throughout the city, Watertown has a looped system and did lose power, Magstadt said. A looped system loops through a service area and returns to the original point. Power can be supplied to a customer from either direction. They typically have an alternative source of power.

The cooperation between the electrical communities are what electrical cooperatives are about, Vugteveen said.

Gibson said he’s seen the benefit of mutual aid agreements including while working in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

The mutual aid looks slightly different for a hurricane, as electric equipment from states to the north of Louisiana may be staged in a nearby state waiting for the aftermath of a hurricane, Gibson said. The staging allows utility crews to respond more quickly to damage in more heavily population areas, he said.

SVE said as of 11:14 a.m. Monday, 470 members were still without power.

Gibson urged the public to remain cautious and stay away from any downed power lines or poles.