Keeping the power flowing
We often take electricity for granted. It makes our homes comfortable day-in and day-out, and it’s at the ready with little more than the flip of a switch. But cooperative lineworkers are always out there maintaining an intricate system of power lines around the clock.
But what goes on behind the scenes once that switch is thrown is far more complex. The power grid, which can be described as the largest, most complex machine ever built, involves an intricate network of power lines crisscrossing neighborhoods and open country, over mountains and through cities, which has evolved over the last century to supply consumers with safe, reliable, and affordable electricity.
The tricky thing about electricity is that it must be used, or moved to where it can be used, the second it’s produced; it generally can’t be stored like water or gas. What’s more, electricity moves at the speed of light along the path of least resistance. This basic principle calls for a carefully monitored, intricate system to move it 24 hours a day.
Literally millions of miles of power lines span the United States in a complex series of “highways.” These lines can be broken into two main categories: transmission, the high-voltage “interstates” supported by steel towers and other similar structures that move electricity over vast distances; and distribution, the “local roads” that run through small towns and neighborhoods and into homes and businesses. Electric cooperatives power 56% of the nations landmass, own and maintain roughly 2.6 million miles, or 42 percent, of the nation’s distributions lines, and serve 42 million people across 88% of U.S. counties. Cooperatives also generate 5% of total U.S. electricity and sell 13% of all U.S. electricity, according to the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). This cooperative-maintained system could cover the distance to the moon and back several times over.
Victory Electric alone has its own sizeable distribution system to maintain: our lineworkers stay busy keeping more than 3,170 miles of line up and running, 24/7.
When there’s a problem somewhere on our system, a power outage typically results. Pinpointing the cause of an outage among those thousands of miles of line may seem like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but Victory Electrics line crews try largely boil it down to a science.
To understand how cooperative staff restore power during an outage, think of electricity distribution like a river in reverse. It originates at a single ocean of power—a generation plant—and diverges from there into a series of transmission lines, substations, and smaller feeder lines until it reaches homes and businesses at a trickle of its original strength. So when we start assessing storm damage, we work to fix the biggest problems first (those starting near the “ocean”), prioritizing repairs according to how they can get the most homes back in service the fastest.
It’s a big job, but our line crews are up to the challenge. If there is an outage in your area, you can help crews pinpoint damage by calling us at 800-279-7915. Even if your neighbors have already called, every bit of information we have helps get the river flowing smoothly again.