IOWA DERECHO 2020

Alliant Energy works to repair 'thousands' of Cedar Rapids streetlights damaged in derecho

Utility 'nearly complete' with inspection of about 200 circuits in Cedar Rapids area

Nick Meyer (left) and Logan Berns lift a replacement streetlight into place in northeast Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 1
Nick Meyer (left) and Logan Berns lift a replacement streetlight into place in northeast Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Meyer and Berns are linemen with MJ Electric in Iron Mountain, Mich., which has been contracted by Alliant Energy for storm repairs. Alliant Energy representatives say they are still evaluating streetlights in need of repair or replacement and estimate that thousands will be replaced. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — About 400 miles away from home, Logan Berns and Nick Meyer spent their afternoon earlier this month in northeast Cedar Rapids repairing streetlights.

That work will continue long after Berns and Meyer’s return to Iron Mountain, Mich., as Alliant Energy estimates “thousands” of lights still need to be repaired in the Cedar Rapids area following the Aug. 10 derecho.

Mayuri Farlinger, Alliant’s director of operations for the region, did not have an estimate as to how long it’ll take to repair the streetlights still out.

So far, Alliant crews and contractors have fixed “hundreds” of streetlights. But Farlinger said it’s been difficult to make repairs with debris still along many streets.

“There is so much debris out there,” Farlinger said. “The streetlights and the wires associated with them were sitting underneath those huge piles of trees and shrubs and building materials.”

In some cases, the city of Cedar Rapids cleared the debris in the front yard, and then that pile “regenerated” when customers moved debris from their back or side yards.

More debris collections still are being planned by the city.

The utility also first prioritized restoring power to homes and businesses. After “several weeks” of that, the utility started a walk-through of about 200 circuits in the Cedar Rapids area.

“We were really looking for two things,” Farlinger said.

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“One, streetlights that needed to be repaired or replaced, and, two, areas of our system that just might’ve needed a little bit of attention.”

That includes any fallen trees that could lead to an outage in a future storm.

Alliant’s walk-through is “nearly complete” — between 90 and 95 percent done — more than two months after the storm.

Streetlight repairs began at the end of October. Now that city has cleared debris from many streets, Farlinger said crews are out in “full force” to repair lights.

“That will continue until every single one of those lights are back on,” Farlinger said.

Alliant has 12 two-person crews dedicated for streetlight repairs in “every quadrant of the city.”

“That’s what they do from sun up to sun down,” Farlinger said.

She said having less daylight and colder weather as the year progresses has not affected crews’ ability to repair lights.

“If it’s negative 20 degrees, they’re not going to be working outside that day,” Farlinger said.

“But we should be able to get a good chunk, if not all of this work done before the weather turns really bad, so I don’t think the weather is going to prevent us from doing what we need to do.”

The level of damage has varied between neighborhoods.

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“In some areas, I’d say 50 percent of the lights are impacted,” Farlinger said. “And in other neighborhoods, they’ve been luckier and haven’t been affected as much.”

Sometimes, that means completely replacing a streetlight. Other times, fixing “one span of wire” can restore 10 lights.

Farlinger said it’s difficult to provide exact numbers because the status of lights are changing “by the hour, by the day, by the week.”

Meanwhile, Alliant is dedicating many of its crews to restore power to customers who needed extensive electrical repairs before Alliant could resume power.

“There were homes and businesses that needed extensive repairs,” Farlinger said.

“They’re still calling to say, ‘Hey, I’m ready to take service now. I need power.’”

Comments: (319) 398-8394; john.steppe@thegazette.com

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