Taking Action

Southside Electric members could be in the dark until February 28, company doubles workforce

Taking Action

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Some Southside Electric Cooperative members could be without power for another 10 days.

Frustration is growing among members. Calls and emails are flooding in to our 8News inboxes from Southside members going on day seven without power. Some people are angry while others are becoming hopeless.

“Just getting the tree off of the power line. That’s all I’m asking for,” said Tracy Gunn, from Chesterfield off of Cattail road. However, she’d also be happy to get power back as well. Her family has been without electricity since Saturday morning after a massive drooping tree branch landed on the power line outside her home. They’re Southside Electric Cooperative members.

The branch has been pulling not only on her line, but also on her patience. “It’s very frustrating!”

No power means no running water unless their small generator is on. Though the generator doesn’t do much, she said.

The Gunn’s heat water in crock pots to bathe. “We’ll holler at each other and say give me another pot,” she told 8News.

The generator doesn’t run at night, however. Four blankets do the trick until she gets out of bed in weather under 50 degrees.

Gunn said she reported the problem with her power line soon after it happened. A few days later,
Southside closed the ticket and marked the work as completed.

“Nobody has come and the branches were still there,” Gunn said. Since then, they’ve been getting the runaround with Southside. Calling, texting, and using their website to contact someone doesn’t have any effect, she said.

“We asked if we could speak to somebody else, a manager, supervisor, anybody else we could speak to,” Gunn said. “No, you can’t talk to anybody,” she said the company told her. On Friday, nearly seven days later, the branch still sits on her power line.

“My biggest fear is that the branches on the power line is gonna rip the meter from my house.”

Hers is not the only family struggling to communicate with the company. Tabitha Royal Hill, from Louisa county, is a Southside member still without power as well.

“You can either hold or you can call back for a representative. When you say hold, it automatically hangs up on you,” she said.

Royal Hill has a baby at home. Her husband is also disabled at home with health conditions.

She’s also still recovering from a bad case of COVID-19 that uprooted her life in December. Without power, she’s unable to use breathing machines she needs to recover from COVID.

“It’s very depressing, especially if you’re dealing with COVID-19 and those effects. Knowing this can send you back into a hospital or cost you more money with health care,” she said.

Royal Hill said she’s also lost quite a bit of money unable to work from home without internet access.

After ignoring 8News requests for interviews all week, Southside Electric agreed to answer our questions on-camera Friday.

“I know our members are hurting,” Brad Furr, Vice President of Operations said.

Furr told 8News that 90% of members will have power by Feb. 25 and the rest will have electricity by the 28th. This means members like Gunn and Royal Hill may not see power any time soon.

The storm initially left 80% of the entire company’s members in the dark.

The timeline could be moved up for some or extended for others, according to Brad Furr.

He said in certain circumstances if there’s extensive damage, restorations could extend into March.

But the company is also taking a rare step that could also improve the timeline. Southside is activating an agreement with Dominion Energy and other crews from five states in the southeast.

Furr said by Saturday, the amount of workers restoring power will double — to make up a workforce of 783 people. “Once we have these guys on the ground we’re gonna have an acceleration on this restoration effort,” he said.

8News Reporter Alex Thorson asked him why the company didn’t ask for help sooner. He said that crews were pre-staged before the storm. “Once the storm hit us, it was very difficult to get help locally because others were impacted around us,” he said.

According to the company, crews that came early in the week to assist were called back to their own co-ops to pre-stage for the second winter storm, which had been forecasted to impact Southside, Central, and Southwestern regions of Virginia, as well as North Carolina and South Carolina.

“Then we’ve had rain and this other ice storm threatening us this week, we haven’t been able to get these crews in until today,” Furr said.

There have also been challenges in repairing the equipment since the storm. “As crews make progress, new outages are occurring from trees springing back up and lines slapping together, as well as when trees give up at their roots because of weight with the saturated soils,” a company representative stated.

8News asked if the company is not equipped to handle damages caused by a storm of this magnitude. Gunn said no company is equipped to do so. “It’s not just Southside,” he said. Explaining that any electrical utility in this situation would “need a contingent of help.”

The storm from Saturday, February 13 was the most damaging and widespread since January of 2000. “This is the worst storm I have seen in my 14 years at Southside and 36 years in the industry,” said the company’s president and CEO Jeff Edwards.

However, concerns and frustration over how the cooperative is responding to worried calls, texts, and emails from members linger.

After sharing Gunn’s story, 8News asked if the company could be doing a better job at communicating with those struggling.

“We’ll continue to work with the county leaders, continue to work on Facebook, social media posts, we appreciate the help we’ve got from the local news media and we’ll continue to get that message out,” a communications representative told 8News.

The company assured 8News they would look into Tracy Gunn’s situation.

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