REC Celebrates 75 Years
The Power to Bring Communities Together
Although most of the early pioneers of the two cooperatives
originally formed to electrify the Rappahannock Electric
Cooperative (REC) service territory are gone today, the light they
helped bring to their rural areas still shines through the spirit of
their efforts. As a cooperative owned by the people it serves, REC
has grown from two independent electric cooperatives to become
the largest cooperative in Virginia.
“In the mid 1930s, farmers in Caroline, Madison and
Culpeper counties had the desire to bring electricity to their
farms that functioned with hand-pumped water, candlelight and
woodburning stoves,” explained Kent D. Farmer, REC’s president
and CEO. “With investor-owned utilities powering the densely
populated areas, making farm operations more successful and
allowing new businesses to develop, rural Virginians wanted the
same conveniences and opportunities.”
Farmer’s Rural Utilities was first formed and then later
became known as Virginia Electric Cooperative. It first
served rural Caroline County and expanded into
surrounding counties. Shortly after, Northern
C0-op system improvements
Piedmont Electric Cooperative formed to serve Madison and
Culpeper, and later expanded to surrounding communities.
After more than four decades of successfully electrifying parts of
Central Virginia, the two cooperatives consolidated to form REC.
“With such strong foundational roots, REC has formed into
an industry leader among electric cooperatives nationwide,”
added Farmer. “From solutions for keeping costs down to helping
with energy efficiency, today REC is finding new ways to save
energy and money by working together inside the Cooperative
and outside with the people we serve.”
REC and its members have seen many changes since the first
house was electrified in 1936, and there will undoubtedly be more
as it moves into the future. Farmer said, “Despite what lies ahead,
REC remains confident in its ability to surmount any challenges
with the same resolve as in years past, keeping members at the
forefront of the Cooperative. REC has and will always keep the
interest of the membership as a top priority. We are proud
to celebrate 75 years and look forward to many more
milestones to come.”
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Spring is a time of renewal, but it can also bring extreme weather changes
and sudden storms. Thunderstorms, tornadoes and floods can be
devastating in terms of facility damage and lost revenues. While employee
safety is the first order of business, care should be taken to reduce the
impact of a storm on business operations. Is your facility ready? Storm
preparedness should include emergency action procedures to ensure the
safety of your staff and facility, as well as adequate backup power to
keep your critical equipment functioning in case of an outage.
Storm safety procedures
The following steps should help to keep your staff and facility safe
from harm in the event of a spring storm.
• Create an emergency action plan that includes evacuation procedures,
contact information for local first responders and emergency contact
information for all employees.
• Keep supplies in an emergency preparedness kit. Suggested items include
water bottles, non-perishable food, blankets, first-aid supplies, flashlights
and a battery-powered radio.
• Contact your state emergency management office for information about
local shelters, evacuation plans, emergency exit routes and so on.
• Make sure the grounds around your facility are free of heavy debris that
could be tossed around in the wind, and trim trees to prevent limbs from
falling on buildings.
• Choose a safe area in your facility where occupants can gather if a storm
or tornado warning is issued. This area should be located in a basement
if available, or a ground-level room with no windows.
Keeping outdoor workers safe
Outdoor workers are exposed to a variety of weather conditions, but
lightning poses a particular threat. Businesses with fleet vehicles or outdoor
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Preparing for Spring Storms
work crews should have a plan in place
to keep workers safe in case of a lightning storm.
The following are some general safety tips:
• Monitor weather conditions for reports of severe weather conditions
in your area.
• Make sure workers understand the safety procedures that are to be followed
in case of severe weather, including what shelter is available to them.
• Safe shelter areas include substantial buildings, enclosed metal vehicles or low
ground. Inform employees to avoid metal objects, open areas or water.
Make sure workers wait until at least 30 minutes after the last lightning strike
before returning to work.
After the storm
While your electric power is very reliable, outages do happen. Facility damage
can also result in long-term downtime. By planning ahead, you can get back
to business quickly and reduce financial loss.
High Reliability Zones (HRZs)
Targeted to Improve Reliability
Providing reliable electric service is one of REC’s top priorities.
In order to achieve this goal, the Cooperative’s knowledgeable
employees analyze distribution circuit performance to identify areas
for service improvements to increase reliability.
John Crawford, REC’s manager of the Blue Ridge district
and operations and construction services, said, “We have identified
high reliability zones, as the section of a circuit from the substation
to the first down-line protective device. It is critical that these zones
be evaluated for construction integrity, functional coordination
schemes, adequate lightning and device protection, and other
Each of REC’s districts will analyze circuit performance using
industry-standard metrics and prioritize the construction of high
reliability zones based on this analysis. The plan developed will be
implemented over the next five years and then be re-evaluated to
ensure the desired results are being achieved.
“Reducing the frequency of outages in these zones would have
a significant positive impact on REC’s reliability,” Crawford added.
“Employees will review the physical condition of the facilities in each
zone and develop plans to improve reliability for our members.”
Upgrades such as wildlife and lightning protection, pole and
cross-arm replacements, and line-protection upgrades will be
implemented. Existing and potential vegetation issues will also be
identified and mitigated as much as possible prior to implementing
the construction of the HRZ. Advanced technology, such as infrared
cameras, will be utilized to identify connection points within the
zone that may be getting ready to fail.
Crawford concluded, “These projects will greatly improve
the reliability of service to our members. We can’t prevent all
power outages, especially those that occur because of high winds,
snow, ice and other storms. But these projects will help reduce
outage frequency and the length of time of some outages due to
Recovering After the Storm
Winter Storms Saturn and Virgil
In early March, winter storm “Saturn” brought wet, heavy snow
and gusty winds to virtually all areas of Rappahannock Electric
Cooperative’s territory. At the height of the storm, more than 70,000
REC members were without electricity. Storm Virgil hit the same
areas in late March leaving over 11,000 members without electricity.
The Effects on REC
The National Weather Service predicted days in advance that a strong
winter storm would pass through Virginia, bringing heavy snow to
northwestern Virginia. The predictions for snow and winds gusting in
excess of 50 miles per hour were correct, but the storm tracked further
south than expected. At times, snow fell at rates of two to three inches
an hour. All of the 22 counties served by REC received heavy, wet snow
of varying depths. The National Weather Service reported accumulations
of up to 19 inches along the Skyline Drive, 16 inches in Louisa, 8
inches south into Hanover, and two to three inches as far east as King
and Queen. Governor Bob McDonnell declared a State of Emergency
as the heavy snow and high wind brought trees down onto power lines
and across roads. According to Virginia Department of Emergency
Management, there were approximately 370,000 outages among electric
Outages – Saturn
utilities across the Commonwealth
at the peak of the storm.
With the effects of storm “Saturn”
fresh in everyone’s memories,
your Cooperative braced itself for
what was being forecast as another
powerful storm for the same areas.
Winter storm “Virgil” arrived midafternoon
on March 24 bringing
sleet and snow to many of the same areas affected by the month’s
earlier storm. Leaving anywhere from two to eight inches of snow in
areas it weighed heavy on power lines causing damage to equipment.
REC Preparation and Response to the Storm
Based on weather forecasts for storm “Saturn”, REC knew there was the
potential for extensive damage and prepared in advance by requesting
assistance from cooperatives in states outside the storms’ projected
paths. Before the storm started, REC crews and contractors, along with
crews from other cooperatives were pre-staged and ready to respond.
“Having additional crews in place prior to storm “Saturn” allowed
us to restore service to nearly 50 percent of our members within 24
hours,” said Tim Martin, vice president of engineering and operations.
“Mutual aid agreements among cooperatives are invaluable in times
like this. Having quick access to additional resources truly speeds the
REC and out-of-state crews responded to outages
from storm “Saturn” starting early Wednesday
Outages – Virgil
morning. Lines were coming down faster than crews
could repair them. When the extent of damage became
evident Wednesday afternoon, additional assistance
was requested. Soon, linemen and equipment from
eight states were working alongside REC personnel,
more than doubling REC’s field workforce and
creating one of the largest restoration teams assembled
in the history of the Cooperative.
Crews worked around the clock to restore power
as quickly and safely as possible. Despite difficult road
conditions, fast-falling snow, and
dangerous conditions, REC was able
to respond quickly. Within 48 hours
of storm “Saturn’s” peak, 75 percent
of the outages had been restored.
By March 11, power was restored to
all REC members.
Closing following forecasts for
storm “Virgil” at the end of the
month, REC made similar preparations for potential outages. Since the
storm didn’t include the high winds the effects of REC’s system weren’t
as severe as the storm earlier in the month. With assistance from in and
out of state Cooperatives, REC was able to restore power to all of the
members affected by storm “Virgil” within two days.
“We understand that our members inconvenienced by these storms
have recently experienced outages from hurricane Sandy and the
Derecho. The stubborn weather pattern repeated itself once again in
the central part of our service area.” Maxie Rozell, director of Safety
explained that the late seasonal storms produced heavy wet snow,
impacting trees and lines. It melted quickly, but the damage was
extensive and the time to make repairs was lengthy.
Restoring service after such devastating storms follows a specific
and proven hierarchy. First we address downed wires that create an
immediate threat to life or property, or that block roads as reported
by local 911 dispatchers. Next is ensuring that power is flowing
to the substations. This may, as it did during these storms, require
coordinating with other utilities to repair high voltage lines traversing
between substations. The third step is to repair the circuits out of the
substations. Once the main circuits are repaired and energized, the
remaining restoration takes a triage approach: evaluate the damage
and do the most good as quickly as possible by repairing lines serving
critical public facilities and larger numbers of members.
“We know it is frustrating to see crews working in your area and
potentially restoring power to some of your neighbors, and then leave
while you remain off,” said REC’s CEO and President, Kent Farmer.
“We constantly re-evaluate our restoration process, but to focus on
smaller or individual outages before fixing larger lines would be very
inefficient,” explained Farmer. “Each member is equally important,
but we have to focus on the repairs that provide the greatest good.”
REC maintains more than 16,000 miles of power lines to serve
157,000 meters across 22 counties. About 60 percent of those lines
are overhead. REC’s policy is to install lines in the most cost-effective
manner. Overhead lines are usually less costly, and have the benefit
of being able to carry higher volumes of electricity, being easier
to upgrade as communities grow and the demand for electricity
increases, and easier and quicker identification and repair of problems
along the lines.
People often think placing lines underground will make
the electric system more reliable, and that the added costs of
underground construction will be offset by reducing right-of-way
maintenance expenses and the costs of repairing lines after storms.
Several well documented technical studies by regulators across the
country, including the Virginia State Corporation Commission,
conclude that placing all lines underground would be cost
prohibitive, take decades to complete and would result in increased
rates for all electricity customers.
For REC, providing reliable service is second only to ensuring
the safety of the public and our employees. One of the Cooperative’s
strategic goals is to reduce the frequency and duration of outages.
Options for achieving that goal may involve placing some lines
underground, “hardening” major circuits, widening rights-of-way, and
performing more frequent tree trimming and line patrols. Evaluating
and implementing new technologies will also play an important role.
While a totally “storm proof” distribution system may not be
economically nor technically feasible, minimizing the impact of severe
weather events is becoming ever more important, as demonstrated
by the four major storms we have experienced within past eighteen
months. Be assured that your Cooperative is taking both immediate
and long-term actions to provide reliable electric service.
When Occupancy Sensors Make Sense
Lighting accounts for 40 percent of the electricity used in
commercial buildings. Despite the attention paid to efficiency
upgrades, great opportunities exist for reducing energy use by
simply turning lights off where and when they are not needed.
While energy savings can be achieved through education and
incentives, it is often difficult to get staff or building occupants to
cooperate. An automated lighting control system using occupancy
sensors is more effective in many cases.
Selection and Placement
Proper selection and placement of occupancy sensors can result
in a system that building occupants view as an improvement;
automatically turning off lights after occupants leave a room and
automatically turning them on as occupants enter. However,
inappropriate application of this technology can limit the
amount of energy savings and lead to poor, or even unsafe,
Commonly used sensor types include infrared and ultrasonic.
Infrared sensors detect motion from a heat source (such as a
person), while ultrasonic models detect motion from objects using
a form of radar. Each has strengths and weaknesses that should
be considered when making a selection. Infrared sensors need to
see the occupant, so they may not perform well in restroom stalls
or office cubicles. Also, minimal motions (such as typing on a
keyboard) may not always be detected. Ultrasonic sensors are good
at sensing small movements and do not need to see the occupant
directly. However, since ultrasonic waves bounce off room
surfaces, any movement will alter their return patterns.
Occupancy sensors may not be a good fit for every part of
your facility. Start by identifying spaces that are unoccupied on
a regular basis. Spaces to consider include executive offices, copy
rooms, restrooms, and conference rooms. Selection of appropriate
spaces requires an accurate understanding of how the spaces will be
used. For existing buildings, it may be worthwhile to measure and
document space occupancy. This can be done with sophisticated
data recorders or by simply having someone walk around at regular
intervals to see which spaces are occupied. Occupancy sensors
should not be used with high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps,
unless they are used with stepped-dimming systems specifically
designed for use with occupancy sensors.
Installation and Coverage
Occupancy sensors are available as wall-mounted and ceilingmounted
units. To avoid false detection with ceiling-mounted
sensors, it is important to specify a viewing range that matches
the application. For example, a hallway sensor should look in two
directions but not into an office, while a conference room sensor
should pick up motion from anywhere in the room. Some of
the most common failures of occupancy control systems can be
attributed to inadequate sensor coverage or not tuning a sensor’s
sensitivity appropriately for the application.
Coverage area of sensors depends on the room arrangement,
room geometry, the presence of partitions, type of sensor, location
of sensor, the sensor’s sensitivity setting, and type of motion.
Ultrasonic sensors can cover a wider range than infrared sensors,
but are more prone to false triggering from air motion. Ceilingmounted
models may cover 250 to 2,000 square feet, while wallmounted
sensors may cover 300 to 7,500 square feet. Larger areas
can be covered by integrating multiple sensors. Each sensor has
controls to adjust the time interval before lights are turned off—
typically ranging from one to 15 minutes.
Saving Energy with Sensors
Occupancy sensors can result in a wide range of savings,
depending on the occupancy pattern of the room and the habits
of the occupants. Alcoa Composites in Monrovia, California
enjoys $26,000 in annual electricity savings as a result of installing
ultrasonic sensors in offices, work areas, and hallways. The
installation paid for itself within one year.
Frequent on-and-off switching may shorten lamp and ballast
life. Generally however, the energy-cost savings from turning
lamps off more than makes up for any increased maintenance and
This article previously appeared in the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative,
Questline e-newsletter and is used with permission.