Guest Columnist

After the derecho, Iowa utility companies banded together for customers

Storm cleanup at a home in rural Van Horne, Iowa, on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Storm cleanup at a home in rural Van Horne, Iowa, on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Since the August derecho devastated much of our state, people, businesses and all levels of government have gone to extraordinary lengths to help each other, demonstrating the “Iowa Nice” attitude Iowans are known for. So, too, did Iowa’s utility providers and their employees, who worked together to safely restore power to the hundreds of thousands of Iowans who lost it.

The scope and magnitude of the damage the derecho left in its wake was unlike anything Iowa Utility Association member utility providers — MidAmerican, Alliant Energy, ITC Midwest and Black Hills Energy — had ever experienced. In a matter of hours and with little warning, the unprecedented storm ravaged both metropolitan and rural areas across Iowa. In some locations, the derecho’s sustained winds reached 140 miles per hour — the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane — and knocked out power to nearly 500,000 customers.

The historic storm took down more than 120,000 miles of overhead power lines, toppled trees and destroyed thousands of power poles. Large lattice towers, which are the structures that carry our transmission lines, snapped in half. The damage was catastrophic, hitting Marshalltown and Cedar Rapids particularly hard. In some areas, the storm also damaged natural gas infrastructure.

Before they could even survey utility damage, our member providers had to navigate a jaw-dropping amount of property damage, fallen trees, debris and threats to their own safety.

The hundreds of thousands of Iowans who lost power or experienced storm losses at home included our own member provider employees and their families. But that didn’t stop them from jumping into action to help their own communities.

Despite all the challenges, all hands were on deck. Nearly 4,000 crew members worked hundreds of thousands of hours — with many working 18-hour days continuously in more than 300 cities and towns. Our member companies requested and received help from thousands of additional line, tree and support staff, along with their equipment, from utility companies and contractors from more than two dozen states and Canada. The Iowa National Guard even cleared debris in Cedar Rapids so utility crews could assess damage.

Utilities quickly brought in more than 5,000 replacement utility poles from several regions of the country, and crews erected them in less than two weeks. Work of this scope would typically take 10 months.

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We are extremely grateful for our state’s utility crews and for the utility contractors who traveled here to help and their herculean efforts.

The Iowa Utility Association is proud of the work Iowans accomplished together to restore electric service to our state. Our utility providers repaired and rebuilt infrastructure after unimaginable destruction. All of Iowa benefits when we invest in and maintain the infrastructure that powers our customers and our state’s economy.

I invite everyone to learn more about our investor-owned utilities and their commitment to providing safe service by visiting IowaUtility.org. I have every confidence that our utility providers will continue to do whatever it takes — around the clock and even in the worst of conditions — to provide Iowans with safe and reliable energy.

Chaz Allen is executive director of the Iowa Utility Association.

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