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Energy Trails Beginnings With coordination from NRECA International, the philanthropic arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives (OAEC) and the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives took on a joint project to electrify the villages of El Torito and Dos de Junio in the Amazonian area of Bolivia. Standing on the legacy of rural electrification, co-op leaders from Oklahoma and Missouri had the vision and desire to bring light to families who had never before had electric power. “Rural electric cooperatives are known for bringing power to areas that would not otherwise enjoy electricity,” OAEC General Manager Chris Meyers said. “It’s rewarding to know we made a difference for families who are striving to have a better quality of life.” The villages are located in the outskirts of Riberalta, a city of 90,000 inhabitants with one local electric cooperative providing electricity, Cooperativa Electrica Riberalta (CER). Sixteen volunteers from Oklahoma and Missouri tackled the project, which was an expansion of service for CER. The project consisted of 280 poles over a span of 10 miles of line. Hurst said 3 ½ miles consisted of three-phase primary line and 6 ½ miles was comprised of secondary line. Local co-op linemen assisted the volunteers with the project. “The younger linemen were fascinated with our processes for building lines,” Hurst said.


“The way we build line, we do as much as we can while we are working on a task, so when we come back the next time, it’s easier. Our process is more streamlined.” The local linemen were instrumental in the preparation of the project. Prior to the volunteers arriving on site on August 2, they dug holes and installed 280 poles by hand. Hurst was im- pressed by how perfect the hand-dug holes were. They also installed anchors on the poles. CER’s Director of Operations Eligio Villarroel, told the volunteers it would have taken the co-op five years to do the work the volunteers did in two weeks due to lack of resources, funding and personnel time.


Local Conditions The project took place between August 1 and August 17. This time period was selected since it is the winter and dry season in Bolivia. Volunteers expected temperatures to be in the 70s or 80s, but the average temperature while they were there was 96 degrees, which made the manual labor more challenging. Another obstacle was the relentless amount of dirt. High winds and dry village terrain caused very dusty conditions—to the point of at times resembling “Dust Bowl” days. At the end of a day’s work, the linemen, the trucks and their belongings were covered in dust. Linemen were also challenged by a “stink.” Due to inadequate sewage systems, villagers burn their trash daily. Dead animals are also burned, causing a foul odor in the air. Hurst said the quality of the poles in Bolivia was lower than the poles the volunteers are used to climbing at home.


“Let’s put it this way: the quality of our poles at home is a 10, and the quality here was a three,” Hurst said. “The poles were much more difficult to climb, but our guys were over-pre- pared and made it look easy when it was not easy.” Another challenge the crew faced was a four-day delay on a crate of tools they had sent to assist in their work. “When we realized the crate was delayed, we had to work backward to build the lines. Everyone understood we had to be flexible. We did everything we could to stay on track and we finished the project ahead of schedule,” Hurst said. Jeremy Baker, a lineman with Cookson Hills Electric Cooperative based in Stigler, Okla.,


said the work was not too overbearing. Instead, what impacted him most was the hospitality he experienced. “It was challenging but not as labor intensive as I thought it would be. It helped that we had prepared at home by climbing poles and going through physical techniques,” Baker said. “What impressed me the most was the generosity of the people. They didn’t have much, but every day they would bring us a two-liter bottle of Coke in the middle of the day to quench our thirst. They were happy people and had a lot of joy.”


Inauguration Day On August 14, 2016, local citizens were invited by CER for a 6 p.m. ceremony to formally turn on the lights. Representatives from NRECA International, NRECA Board Officer Curtis Wynn, OAEC General Manager Chris Meyers and officials from CER were present at the ceremony along with volunteers from Missouri and Oklahoma electric co-ops. “Oklahoma and Missouri are proud to send their finest men to share their talents with you,”


Jason Brown, Rural Electric Cooperative lineman, climbing a pole in Bolivia. Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky


Left to Right: Heath Martin, Northfork Electric, and Jeremy Baker, Cookson Hills, working on a powerline in Bolivia. Photo by Jim McCarty/Rural Missouri


OCTOBER 2016 19


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