Thursday, April 24, 2014

International Co-op Spirit

Electric co-ops come together to restore power in the Philippines after typhoon

On November 10, 2013, a 300-mile wide typhoon packing winds of 190 miles per hour tore through parts of the Philippine islands, leaving in its wake an indescribable scene of death and destruction. Thousands of Filipinos were killed in the storm and hundreds of villages were completely leveled, including the facilities owned and operated by the local electric cooperatives that serve those villages.

The villages impacted by Typhoon Haiyan receive electric service from electric cooperatives in part due to the efforts of NRECA International, a division of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association that partners with developing nations to provide electricity to communities in need around the world. NRECA International assists in the development of low-cost rural electric systems, and it has established more than 250 co-ops in 40 countries that now serve more than 110 million people.

At last month’s NRECA annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, the director of the Philippines’ National Electrification Administration, Edita S. Bueno, spoke about the impact of Typhoon Haiyan. She said that in the areas served by 33 electric co-ops, 1.3 million homes were damaged and 120,000 were completely destroyed. According to Dan Waddle, NRECA’s senior vice president in charge of the international program, nine of the co-ops impacted lost 95-100 percent of their distribution systems.

Shortly after the typhoon hit, NRECA International sent an assessment team to the Philippines to evaluate how NRECA could help. NRECA representatives met with local co-op leaders to develop a strategic plan to address the tragedy. A relief fund was established, and technical support was provided to assist in the recovery.
Former NRECA Board Chairman Mike Guidry, a retired co-op manager from Louisiana, spoke at the NRECA International lunch during the annual meeting and he poignantly put the tragedy in the Philippines in perspective. He recalled seeing an apparently homeless little girl as he visited one of the areas devastated by the typhoon. She was touching a makeshift grave marker that indicated where family members who were victims of the typhoon had been buried. “I think there are a lot of children out there who have lost everything,” Guidry said. “And when I say everything, it’s not just their homes, but their families.”

Since November, with the help from other electric coops throughout the Philippines, the damaged co-ops have restored power to more than 2,200 of the 5,400 villages impacted by the storm. Clearly, however, there is much more work to be done. After his visit to the area in February, Guidry compared the impacts of Typhoon Haiyan to hurricanes that have hit the United States: “As a co-op manager in Louisiana, I oversaw restoration after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, but I never saw anything like the total devastation I’ve seen here. The destruction is degrees of magnitude greater … the reconstruction challenge is simply overwhelming.”

The partnership between the United States and the Philippines in developing rural electrification goes back to 1966 and the Kennedy administration, and today 119 electric co-ops serve the rural areas of the Philippines. The electric co-op business model and culture have been a tremendous success in the Philippines as evidenced by the fact that more than 1,000 lineworkers from co-ops across the Philippines came to the aid of the people most impacted by Typhoon Haiyan.
The Filipino people are resilient and will overcome this natural disaster. However, they could use more help. Just as co-ops in the U.S. come to the aid of their neighbors, we can come to the aid of this international co-op neighbor that needs a hand up. If you are interested in contributing to the recovery efforts in the Philippines, please visit philippines-typhoon-relief.

Visit to learn more about NRECA International Programs. 

Copyright 2011 by Colorado Rural Electric Association