Editorial: SEC members’ questions need to be answered

Published 3:32 pm Wednesday, February 24, 2021

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After the last broken pole has been replaced and all the downed power lines put back into place, plenty of questions will remain about why thousands of Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC) customers were left without power for more than a week.

The cooperative obviously struggled with the scale of the crisis as a Valentine’s weekend ice storm left 80% of its customers without power. Why SEC’s problems were so much worse than those of Dominion Energy and other neighboring cooperatives is a question that needs to be addressed.

While the passing of time may lead some to consider the major ice storm a once-in-a lifetime act of God, unlikely to be repeated, the temptation to not learn from this time and make changes from what has become a humanitarian crisis in Southside Virginia will become stronger, but we cannot let that happen.

Questions about SEC’s level of preparation for the storm, both in personnel and supply resources, need to be examined. Many customers have brought up the cooperative’s line clearing practices. Are lines cleared of trees frequently enough? Is a wider clearing area needed?

The biggest question facing SEC is why do they still have 10,000 customers without power days after other cooperatives and power companies have gotten all of their customers back online? What factors led to what has been a painstakingly slow restoration process for so many people left in the dark in our area?

It is good to see our elected leaders become involved in this issue. Congressman Bob Good was in Charlotte County recently. State Sen. Frank Ruff and Dels. James Edmunds, Tommy Wright and Lashrecse Aird have also been on the ground touring the area.

While we thank the linemen who have spent days working in bone-chilling temperatures and applaud those who came from other areas to help restore power, to walk away from this two-week crisis and make no changes is to invite the same situation again, if not worse.

The advantage SEC customers have as members of a cooperative is they have a say in how the cooperative is operated. Members have a chance to vote for who is on the cooperative’s board of directors each September. Before COVID, these meetings were celebrations featuring live music, barbecue dinners and door prizes to entice members to attend.

Members who want answers and change have a chance to participate in the process. That’s one of the advantages of a cooperative over a corporate power company. The members have a vote and can use their vote to choose members of the board of directors who will make positive changes.

As a society, we have become dependent on electricity. We depend on our local utility companies to provide power for oxygen machines, nebulizers and health monitoring equipment that keep our senior citizens alive. Electricity has become more than a convenience for most, it is a necessity.

Once all the lights have been turned back on, the questions that remain need to be answered before the next ice storm leaves us all powerless again.

(The views in this editorial are of  The Kenbridge-Victoria Dispatch editorial staff. This editorial was written by Editor Roger Watson. He can be reached at Editor@K-VDispatch.com or (434) 808-0622.)