Co-ops help provide power around the globe

Here in Southeast Kansas, electricity is a staple of modern life. The only time we ponder life without utility power is when bad weather forces us to make due without light bulbs, televisions, and convenient heating and air conditioning. But around the globe, more than 1.6 billion people live without electricity. That’s one in five people.
One program supported by Heartland is the NRECA International Foundation, which helps provide power to people in developing countries.
As Hurricane Matthew barreled through Haiti in October with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph winds, many of NRECA International’s lineworkers from America’s electric cooperatives paid extra attention to the news reports. Making landfall in the southwest tip of the island, news is not coming in fast enough for many of them who are eager to know the status of Cooperative Electrique de l’Arrondisement des Côteaux (CEAC), an electric co-op they helped build from the ground up.
Established in 2013, CEAC first turned the lights on in September 2015. For 14 months, 38 lineworkers from 20 U.S.-based electric co-ops traveled to Haiti to help build this co-op’s infrastructure, which, until Hurricane Matthew slammed into its territory, served 1,200 registered members in Côteaux, Port-a-Piment, and Roche-a-Bateaux.
NRECA International has received a multitude of emails from the volunteers who not only worked to bring electricity to these communities, but also made strong connections with the people who live there. They are ready to return to the region and help rebuild and restore power.
As all of Haiti reeled from yet another massive destruction caused by Mother Nature, NRECA International quickly established a relief fund to aid the devastated electric cooperative it helped set up. All funds will be used for power restoration efforts as well as to help rebuild the community.
“Our team has mobilized to support CEAC member-owners to determine the extent of the damage, to restore power and to help rebuild the community in the aftermath of Matthew,” said Dan Waddle, NRECA International senior vice president
On the morning after Hurricane Matthew made landfall, the CEAC co-op general manager and NRECA International staff made the journey back to Coteaux after having been evacuated to the Haitian capital of Port-Au-Prince. Crossing over washed out bridges by truck and eventually finishing the journey by motorcycle and on foot, the team arrived in Coteaux at 2 a.m. the morning of October 6, about 48 hours after the storm hit.
As the sun rose that morning, the team reported that all three towns are almost totally destroyed. An initial report from NRECA International also stated that while all CEAC employees are safe, many of their homes are damaged or destroyed. The power system that our co-ops helped build didn’t fare much better, with a majority of the distribution lines and poles damaged or destroyed. The power plant also suffered major damage.
Funded by the United Nations Environmental Program (with financing from the Norwegian government), USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank, NRECA International began the project to establish CEAC in 2013 to provide these three towns with affordable and reliable power. It partnered with Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) to design and construct a solar-diesel hybrid system for the co-op.
One week after Hurricane Matthew made landfall in this region, a detailed damage assessment was conducted. The team found that at the CEAC power plant’s solar PV generation system—about half of the solar array panels and mounting racks need to be replaced, and none of the distribution lines are working. However, the power plant’s two diesel generators and their diesel fuel tanks were not damaged. And while the damage to the CEAC service area was devastating, none of the CEAC employees, CEAC Board, their families, or any CEAC member consumers suffered any fatalities.
Work has already begun. The CEAC crew is busy clearing roads, downed power lines, poles, and other material that could be a hazard to the community. Any materials and equipment that can be re-used for re-electrification efforts are also being recovered and salvaged.
While American lineworkers and co-op staff are ready to help these Haitian families, it’s still too early to determine when they can. NRECA International is working quickly to make a thorough evaluation of what is needed to restore power and help the community. And when they’re ready, America’s electric cooperatives will be too.