Light of Insight

Posted: June 1, 2020, 12:00 am

Education Power Station offers a variety of lessons to public

Members of the Dothan Tuesday Rotary Club witness an Education Power Station demonstration from Wiregrass Electric Cooperative linemen in early March.

When Wiregrass Electric Cooperative line crew foreman Johnny Hudson drives by area parks, he sees several opportunities for the Education Power Station to do some good.

The station, a trailer that WEC linemen can take with them when making safety presentations to meetings of various area groups, features models of overhead power lines and transformers, electrical meters, an underground transformer, and more.

The lessons lineworkers teach using the station, such as safety-related to the underground transformers often found at area parks

WEC Journeyman Lineman Britt Caldwell demonstrates how a piece of equipment on the electrical grid works during a presentation in March.

and ballfields, are especially beneficial for children who gather there, Hudson says.

“We teach children not to jump on them or play on them,” he says. “When you go by area ballfields, you’ll see children playing on or around them. As we do our demonstration, the children realize, ‘We’re not supposed to do that.’”

Linemen give the demonstrations — usually lasting between 10 and 30 minutes — to groups of all sizes and ages. Safety for both the linemen and for the public is the focus of the discussions, but the employees also answer general questions about their jobs and the electrical grid.

“We at Wiregrass Electric developed this Education Power Station demo unit for a few reasons,” says Brad Kimbro, WEC’s chief operating officer. “It allows us to promote the critical message about our employees’ safety. It allows us to educate the public on how to safely interact with the power grid, especially following storms that may cause issues like downed power lines. Also, it allows us to provide insight into how our cooperative works efficiently to provide members with quality electrical service.”

Safety on the Job

Working around high voltages presents inherently hazardous conditions, but several steps lineworkers take daily limit the risks, Kimbro says. That begins with their clothing.

Lineworkers must wear long-sleeved clothes that are fire retardant, Hudson says. This material prevents them from suffering burns in case an electrical arc forms. Additionally, lineworkers must wear thick, rubber gloves as part of their personal protective equipment. The gloves required for certain tasks can cover their entire arms, protecting their shoulders.

During Education Power Station sessions, lineworkers discuss this and other safety topics like the Move Over Law, which requires drivers to move over safely when utility personnel are working on roadsides, and how to properly connect home generators to the electrical grid. An incorrect connection could reenergize a line and place lineworkers in peril.

Public Safety

From left, WEC linemen Britt Caldwell, Johnny Hudson, and Mark Dillard lead an Education Power Station demonstration.

Lineworkers also instruct groups on how to properly interact with the electrical grid. Many of the discussions address issues that residents may encounter following severe weather, particularly downed power lines.

Despite the many safeguards designed to automatically de-energize a power line when it falls, people should stay away from the lines in case safeguards fail or certain weather conditions persist. Hudson discusses this danger during the presentations and communicates who residents should contact if they discover a downed power line.

Another message lineworkers stress is the need for safety around underground-line transformers, which are the green square boxes found on the ground in many parks and subdivisions. Any malfunction inside the transformer could electrify the unit, posing a major danger to anyone who touches it.

General Insight

The demonstrations also provide WEC employees an opportunity to discuss nuances of the cooperative’s power grid, including how repairs are made and the timing involved in some of the repairs. For instance, underground line repairs often take longer because the problems are usually harder to locate and the workspaces are more challenging.

Those discussions impressed Angelia Wade Turner, a Dothan Tuesday Rotary Club member who recently witnessed an Education Power Station.

WEC Journeyman Lineman Mark Dillard demonstrates how a piece of equipment works on the electrical grid during a presentation in March.

“The general public has no idea what makes things work like they do, and I think it’s always good to get the details from the people that work on it day by day,” she says. “We just go to our light switch, flip a light, and expect it to work. It’s great to hear that information and know what it takes to get those repairs and what they do.”

Sometimes the information lineworkers provide is just a fascinating tidbit, like how squirrels are the No. 1 cause of power outages. Other conversations, though, may spark an interest in a career as a lineworker, Hudson says.

“Students will ask questions,” he says. “For the ones that are kind of interested in it, hopefully it’s helped make up their minds that this is something they want to do.”

Of course, Hudson hopes that those who attend the Education Power Station presentations will learn as much about electrical safety as possible.

“It helps us on our job every day,” he says. “When something goes wrong, if people have seen the demonstration, hopefully they’ll remember to stay away from the power line that’s on the ground and to call somebody if something’s not right. I hope by doing that, it keeps them safe.”