glad to lend a hand
Oak trees don’t
bend. They are inflexible and that often proves to be their undoing.
That fact became very clear to residents of St. Louis when the city’s
storm of the century hit St. Louis on July 19.
The storm smashed
once-mighty oaks into pieces, prompting the worst power outages in
the 100-year history of AmerenUE, the investor-owned utility that provides
power to St. Louis residents. Following a second storm that blew through
the area two days later, more than 600,000 Ameren customers were
In contrast to the
brittle and inflexible oaks, willow trees bend. Willow trees flex before
the storm and when the wind quits blowing, go about their business
There was a time when competing electric utilities did not get along
very well. Old rivalries begun when the first electric cooperatives
were started caused utilities to compete for the right to serve consumers. This
led to costly duplication of services that was never in the best interest
All that began to
change in 1989 when Missouri’s legislature
passed House Bill 813. The new law let utilities sit down together
and work out who would serve a given territory. The law ushered in
a new period of good will among the three segments of the electric
utility industry: cooperatives, municipals and investor-owned utilities.
the passage of House Bill 813 was the beginning of this “let’s
get along” attitude, the storm that hit St. Louis this summer
was the pinnacle of cooperation that, like the storm, will go down
in history as unprecedented. Not long after Ameren’s phone lines
started lighting up with outage calls, the utility made the decision
to call Missouri’s
electric cooperatives for assistance. Cooperatives across the state
responded by sending 95 linemen and their equipment to lend a hand.
have been times in years past that electric cooperatives and investor-owned
utilities helped each other out. These, however, were limited to
pulling the occasional truck from the mud or providing directions to
out-of-town crews unfamiliar with the local landscape.
During the flood
of 1993, Howard and Boone electric cooperatives teamed up to supply
power to the city of Rocheport when floodwaters washed out Ameren’s
transmission lines. When electric cooperatives hold safety meetings
and training classes, municipal utility linemen are invited to attend.
no one can remember a time when electric cooperative linemen answered
the call to help restore power for an investor-owned utility. When
the call came in, no one refused, in large part because they clearly
sympathized with the plight of those fellow Missourians suffering
through a heat wave with no electricity to power air conditioners,
refrigerators and fans.
Like the willow tree,
your electric cooperative has the flexibility to do what is right.
May we all be willows and never oaks when the call for help comes in.
Hart is executive vice president of the Association
of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.
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