As part of “United We Light: Project Bolivia” three Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC) linemen will travel abroad in early September to help electrify a South American region for the first time.
Mike Alexander, Roger Pace and JT Jacobs are leaving Sept. 4 for the Oruro region in western Bolivia. Alexander is a lead lineman in SVEC’s Winchester District; Roger Pace is a lineman first class in the Shenandoah District; and Jacobs is a lineman second class in the Augusta District.
“This is a way to help out people who have never had power before,” Jacobs said. “You kind of get to be a frontrunner for people seeing electricity for the first time. It’s a pretty awesome feeling that you’re helping with the creation of that.”
The Bolivia project represents the first overseas electrification effort of the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives. It’s in coordination with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s international division, which arranges for volunteer teams of co-ops to bring power to unserved parts of the world. Fifteen lineworkers from eight co-ops in Virginia and Maryland are participating.
“Building the power lines and knowing that we are getting power to individuals who have never had electricity, that’s really going to make this a great experience,” Alexander said.
The crew will fly as a team Sept. 4 from Reagan National Airport to Miami, where they will board another plane to Santa Cruz, the largest city in Bolivia. From there, they will embark on a third flight to Cochabamba, followed by a six-hour van ride to Challapata, a municipality in the Oruro Department of the South American nation.
“Concern for community is one of the foundational cooperative principles. That means your local community, of course, but it also means helping other communities in other places, communities that aren’t as fortunate as we are. As cooperative utilities, one of the best things we can do is deliver the gift of electricity to communities where there is none,” said Richard G. Johnstone Jr., president and CEO of the statewide association.
The lineworkers will be divided into two teams for an estimated 12 days of work on 11 miles of power line. Among their duties: construct primary and secondary lines; string, sag and tie in conductors on the structures; hang transformers and make connections; and provide hands-on training to local utility workers. In all, 52 households will be powered.
Local crews from Bolivia will help the visiting lineworkers. A light up ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 19.
“To see the look on the people’s faces when they get electricity for the very first time is what I’m looking forward to most,” Pace said. “I am excited about the trip, and I would ask that the people at our companies and communities keep us as a group in their thoughts and prayers for our safety and safe return.”
To learn more about the trip and view progress reports while the team is in Bolivia, please follow the “United We Light: Project Bolivia” Facebook group.