South Dakota Electric Cooperatives Work To Supply Power Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Apr 6, 2020

Clay/Union power lines south of Vermillion.
Credit SDPB Photo

About three dozen electric cooperatives in South Dakota power the state’s homes and businesses. They are changing their workflow to meet critical needs for power during the pandemic.

Dick Johnson said electric co-ops are vital. Johnson is the CEO and general manager of West River Electric, which serves more than 45-hundred square miles. 

“This day and age, there's no way, or it's very difficult to operate or live without electricity,” Johnson said. “We depend on it in our daily lives very, very much.”

Johnson said hospitals and clinics require utilities like electricity more than ever.

East River Electric Cooperative is one of just three wholesale power co-ops in the state. Chief Member and Public Relations Officer Chris Studer said they are already isolating employees to curb spread of the coronavirus.

“What we've done is we've looked at our field crews and we've split linemen into separate crews so that they are able to take trucks home, bring trucks to a job site, so that they're not crossing paths with other crews.”

Studer notes that crews stagger their hours each day to minimize exposure with other workers. And the co-op has a separate building for other employees.

There are other changes as well. Non-essential businesses are temporarily closing operations.

West River Electric’s Dick Johnson said because of that, he expects revenue for co-ops will drop this year.

“The amount that you use in a residence is vastly different than a commercial account,” he said. “So, if you shut down a business for a period of time, you'd take a lot of residential to make up for the usage for that commercial account. So, there won't be a wash there, I don't believe. I think we're definitely going to see our sales down this year. There’s no doubt about that.”

Johnson expects these changes to have a lasting impact in the long run.