Electric co-ops serve some of the most rugged, remote terrain in the country, covering more than 70 percent of the nation’s landmass, which means we have learned how to restore power in incredibly difficult circumstances. Now, we’re restoring power even faster. Collectively, electric co-ops have reduced the average time without power their consumer-members experience from 142 minutes in 2011 to 105 minutes in 2013 – a 26 percent decline.

Restoring power is a difficult job and must be done safely and strategically. When the lights go out, Tennessee’s electric co-ops must first assess all damage. Power is always safely restored to the greatest number of members in the shortest amount of time possible. Let’s take a look at the power restoration process.

Repair high-voltage transmission lines

Transmission towers and lines deliver high-voltage power from the Tennessee Valley Authority to local substations, which send power to thousands of consumer-members. If these towers or lines are damaged during a powerful storm or natural disaster, they must be repaired before other parts of the system can operate.

Inspect distribution substation

Distribution substations receive high-voltage power from transmission lines then disperse the power at a lower voltage to the co-op’s main distribution lines. Depending on your electric co-op’s service territory, distribution substations can serve either hundreds or thousands of members. When a major power outage occurs, the co-op’s line crews inspect the substation to determine if the problem stemmed from the transmission lines feeding into the substation, the substation itself or if the problem is further down the line.

Check main distribution lines

If the problem cannot be isolated at a distribution substation, the main distribution lines are checked next. These are the lines you’re most likely familiar with. Distribution lines carry power to large groups of members in your electric co-op’s service territory.

Examine supply and service lines

If local outages persist, supply lines, also known as tap lines, are examined next. These lines deliver power to transformers that are either mounted on poles or placed on pads for underground service. Supply lines can be found outside of homes, businesses and schools. Occasionally, damage will occur on the lines between the nearest transformer and your home. Has your neighbor ever had power when you were left in the dark? This means damage occurred on the service line closest to your home. When the problem is on the service line, it may take line crews additional time to restore power. Remember, power is restored to the greatest number of members in the shortest amount of time possible.

As you can see, restoring power after a major outage is a big job and involves much more than simply flipping a switch or removing a tree from a damaged line. In the event of an outage, your local line crews will restore power as quickly and safely as possible.


Abby Berry writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.