Cooperatives: Helping Those in Need


Cooperative employees are special people. Whether they are helping at a food kitchen, building a house for those in need, or spending their week in another country helping to build a sustainable electric system for others, the giving nature of cooperatives extends from the board room to the mindset of the employees that help run the everyday activities.

Gail DeGarmo represents that mindset as she recently departed for Honduras. It was at a recent conference where the speaker stood and asked for volunteers to go overseas to help those cooperatives in need of installing, operating and troubleshooting new AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) systems.

“It sounded like a great opportunity,” Gail said, when asked what made her want to go. “I have been to Central America in the past and developed an affinity to the area, plus how often do we get to travel to another place and truly help people make life easier for themselves,” she continued.

So, Gail sought the permission of Buckeye Rural Electric to leave and take her expertise to the Bay Islands in Honduras. 
There she joined representatives from other cooperatives around the country and flew to meet the crew working for the Roatan Electric Company (RECO). RECO had recently installed and implemented a new AMI system, and Gail’s mission was to help provide “best practice” experience on the monitoring and operating of this new system to RECO’s staff.

Before being able to electronically read the meters in the field, each one had to be read manually. Of the 80 employees RECO currently employees, a handful of them jumped on their dirt bikes and scurried across the island to record each single phase and small commercial meter with a pencil and paper. Roughly 40 commercial meters had their information downloaded via laptop on site which took roughly 15 to 20 minutes each.

“It was obvious that reading meters like this was extremely cumbersome and time consuming for the cooperative,” Gail said, “not to mention expensive.”

Gail continued by saying that the cooperative has plans to grow.

“They are looking to install a 3.9 Mega Watt wind farm, and a 20 Mega Watt petcoke steam plant in the next 2 years,” Gail said.

There is plenty of work to go around with these plans and the RECO staff could easily use meter readers in other areas to further streamline their operations. 
One thing that Gail did notice was the large expense of electricity in Honduras. The price at RECO is .40 per kWh, which is significantly higher than that of the United States. For comparison sake, the price for members of BREC was .049 per kWh during the month of June.

The biggest issue Gail faced was figuring out the solution to meters not reporting to the main office. Gail explained that it is fairly common for meters to fail to report, and that BREC also has this issue from time to time. However, with a brand new system there is a good chance that the cause is configuration error or a line of communication that has broken down and needs to be addressed.

“The beaches were gorgeous,” said Gail, “but the real enjoyment came out being able to help these people. It is amazing to walk down a beach and see a hut and know that this where they live every day. It makes you very grateful for the luxuries we have in America,” continued Gail.

When asked if Gail would be planning another trip down the road, her response was what we would expect of any cooperative staff member, “if they need me then yes. I was thrilled to be able to lend my experiences to another electric cooperative. It was amazing to see what others are doing out there, and how they are taking the technology that exists and making it work for them. We all have to work together in this.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. BREC is proud to have such a dedicated staff. We are proud that the true nature of cooperatives still live strong in the hearts of those who work here.