Power Lines

In March, more than 30 high school students from Adams County participated in a co-op career fair at Ohio State’s Center for Cooperatives in Piketon with representatives from area co-ops, including Adams Rural Electric Cooperative and South Central Power Company, who shared many of the ways students can launch careers in a cooperative business.

Teaching the co-op way

When you think about cooperative businesses, what comes to mind? For most reading this, it’s probably the local electric cooperative.

The Center for Cooperatives opened in 2017 at OSU’s South Centers in Piketon. Faculty and staff work with businesses throughout the state with a focus on cooperative education, applied research, and support. 

Program director Hannah Scott grew up in an agricultural community and says she appreciates the unique approach of how co-ops conduct business: The members own it, benefit from it, and make decisions about it.

A small crowd gathers next to the Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives Education Building during the Farm Science Review to watch South Central Power Company’s live line safety demonstration.

Lasting lessons

It’s not unusual for the crew of lineworkers from Lancaster-based South Central Power Company to hang around and make small talk with attendees after they’ve finished their hourly live-wire safety demonstrations at the annual

“Our guys are really good about making sure they answer everyone’s questions, and they’ll stick around as long as they need to,” says Candi Fisher, member engagement coordinator at South Central Power, who coordinates the mobile safety demonstrations for the co-op. “They could tell this older gentleman wanted to talk to them and so they went over to say hello.”

“You saved my life,” the man said. 

“That’s not something you hear every day,” Fisher says. “But he was very insistent. He made a special trip there that day to thank the guys who had saved his life.”

Bethany Schunn at Cardinal Power Plant

Power brokers

Electric power is a service that is simultaneously deeply appreciated and yet taken for granted.

Powering Ohio’s co-ops

“We all take electricity for granted, until you’re at your own house and you lose it, and then you say, ‘Where’s the power company?’” laughs Schunn, plant manager for the Cardinal Power Plant in Brilliant, a small town on the Ohio River in eastern Ohio. Cardinal’s three coal-burning units produce up to 1,800 megawatts of power at a given moment. It’s the main baseload generating plant for Buckeye Power.

Summer forecast: Sunny and hot with a chance of blackouts

In June of 2022, after fierce storms ripped through the region, areas in and around Columbus were hit with power outages. Residents flocked to cooling centers as temperatures soared into the 90s.

That emergency balancing act is known by many names, including “intermittent outage” or “forced outage,” but is most commonly called a “rolling blackout.” It can happen when a peak in electricity use — usually during extremely hot or extremely cold weather — coincides with significant gaps in the generation or transmission of electricity, says Ben Wilson, director of power delivery engineering for Buckeye Power, which supplies electricity to Ohio’s electric cooperatives. 

Matthew and Emily Bania, with their children, Kora, 5, and Lane, 2, live between Pleasant City and Sarahsville in rural Noble County. Their home is served by Washington Electric Cooperative.

Why am I a member?

Emily Bania has been a member of an electric cooperative for as long as she can remember. Growing up around Belle Valley, she and her family were members of Marietta-based Washington Electric Cooperative.

Emily’s story is typical for co-op members. They get their electricity from, and pay their bills to, one of Ohio’s 25 electric distribution cooperatives; usually vote in the election for the co-op’s board of directors; and maybe attend the annual meeting of members. They might even get capital credits in the form of a check or a bill credit at the end of the year when the not-for-profit co-op’s revenues outpace its expenses.

A map of the system of transmission lines in the U.S. resembles a roadmap, because, in a way, that’s exactly what it is.

Electric highway

Again in late March and early April, a series of powerful storms swept through Ohio — this time bringing gale-force winds that brought down trees, snapped utility poles, and pulled wide stretches of power line to the ground, causing electricity to stop flowing to homes and

For the vast majority of time, no one really thinks about electricity or where it comes from, or how it gets to that lightbulb. It’s only during that fraction of a percent of the hours in a year when power is not available that the grid comes to public attention.

But what is ‘the grid’?

In the United States, the electricity industry has a generating capacity of 1.1 million megawatts, serving up electricity to nearly every home and business — including over a million Ohioans and 42 million people across the country who are served by electric cooperatives.  

Travis Wise trained at a trade school near his home before he began his apprenticeship lineworker training for Consolidated Cooperative in Mount Gilead.

So, you want to be a lineworker?

Travis Wise has been an apprentice lineworker for only about a year, but already he’s experienced the kind of extreme weather that is both the scourge of the lineworker and a source of collective pride. 

“In June, we were working 16 hours a day in 90-degree weather, for about a week,” says Wise, 22. “Then winter storm Elliott hit (in December) and we worked a lot of overtime when it was minus 30. We’ve seen the hottest of the hot and the coldest of the cold.”

“Sure, I want to be home,” Wise says. “But there are people out there who don’t have power and if we’re not out there doing this, then who is?”

Giving feedback

It’s a situation nearly everyone can relate to: Your phone rings, you glance at the unfamiliar number, and you make the quick decision not to answer the call. 

“When I first started at NRECA Market Research Services, nearly 18 years ago, 100% of our surveys were being done by phone,” Sanstead says. “In the past five years or so, I feel that members are still more willing to spend time on a survey for their local electric cooperative than they would be for a political survey, but people’s behavior with phones has changed. Many people will not answer their phone if they don’t recognize the number calling them.” 

Power play

During an unprecedented crisis in NASA’s Apollo program, Ohio native and Apollo 13’s flight director, Gene Kranz, looked out across his mission control room and said: “OK, let’s everybody keep cool. Let’s solve the problem, but let’s not make it any worse by guessing.”

Matt Berry was one of the first Ohio co-op employees to go through the Leadership Edge program in 2017.  He has since been promoted to CEO at Midwest Electric in St. Marys (photo courtesy of Midwest Electric).

Getting an edge

Electric cooperatives often are destination workplaces within the communities they serve. Co-ops offer competitive pay, strong benefits packages, and a commitment to work-life balance.

Rise to the top

Matt Berry and Tim Street served similar roles at two Ohio distribution cooperatives in 2017 — Street was director of communications and member services at Mid-Ohio Energy Cooperative in Kenton, while Berry was manager of community and customer relations at St. Marys-based Midwest Electric — when the statewide cooperative association initiated a leadership-training program called Leadership Edge for co-op employees around Ohio.