As Windy Weather Kicks In, Electric Utilities Need More Line Workers

by Michael Bielawski

PLAINFIELD – Amid some windy storms over the past week and numerous blackouts in the region, at least one local power utility is looking for more line workers to help keep Vermonters’ lights on.

photo by Vanessa Fournier
Strong wind and pouring rain fell in Hardwick and surrounding towns on Oct.

“Anybody who likes to be outdoors and physical work, we are always looking for line crew,” said Patricia Richards, the general manager of the Washington Electric Coop based in East Montpelier. “We’re actually trying to encourage young women to be considering the field, too.”

There is a growing demand for line workers in the nation, as well. According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the demand is expected to grow by almost 10 percent through the next 12 years.

The past week has been busy for line workers, who must respond to often dangerous situations at all hours and during bad weather. WAMC radio reports that hundreds of thousands of utility customers in the Northeast were out of power.

“National Grid, Eversource and Green Mountain Power are reporting power outages in eastern New York, western Massachusetts, northern Connecticut and southern Vermont due to storms moving through the region,” the report stated.

Richards said a storm on Wednesday and Thursday put a lot of homes out of power in northern Vermont, as well. Their service area includes parts of dozens of towns, including Woodbury, Calais, and Marshfield.

“It was roughly probably 20 hours of work that our guys were on,” Richards said. “The power went out at midnight and we got everybody back on last night by about 7:30. So Wednesday evening was when the rains we really started to kick in and we got some high winds, and we started seeing power outages at about midnight between Wednesday and Thursday.”

She said in all they had about 30 line breaks, mostly due to falling trees and branches that downed the lines.

Parts of Plainfield also went out multiple times through the week. They are serviced by Green Mountain Power.

According to the trade publication “T&DWorld,” to be a line worker is considered one of the top ten most dangerous professions. The profession averages 30-to-40 deaths per 100,000 line workers each year.

“Yea, it’s really intense,” Richards said. “Obviously, they are dealing with high-voltage electricity, so it’s important that they understand how to work with it and understand all the safety procedures and the how-tos of electricity.”

She said their workers do a six-week rotation, with two first-class line workers call 24/7 for a week from a team that totals 12 line workers. When not on call, the line workers perform regular maintenance on the power grid.

Richards said that the rural nature of Vermont means lots of trees fall onto lines.

“As you can imagine electricity is wires and poles through the wilderness and through very rural areas. We constantly got evening calls,” she said. “It’s very unusual that they don’t get a call during the week for on-call work.”

Richards said there is a lot of schooling involved to become a line worker.

“It’s a four-to-five-year period to become a first-class line worker,” she said. “Generally the people that we hire go through a ten-week, short-term training class and it gives them the basics of climbing a pole, seeing how it feels to be that high up in the air, working in the middle of the night.”