In times of quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic, reliable home power and access to internet, while already being necessities before the crisis, have become more important than ever before.
When Virginians are working from home, learning from home and communicating in general, from home, electricity and internet access are a must. The shift into a remote work era in the Information Age had been talked about more and more, but the quarantine response to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus has kicked that new way of life into a reality.
This makes it imperative that folks living in all localities, especially in some of the more rural areas throughout Virginia’s Gateway Region, have what they need to function in a home office, and the region’s electric cooperatives are making sure they do.
Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) and Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC) both serve areas throughout the Gateway Region, and they’ve both persisted in carrying out their services to ensure people can still work, learn and communicate from their homes on a daily basis.
PGEC’s RURALBAND, which brings fiber to the home in rural communities, recognizes that many students in the region do not have access to high-speed internet at home, and with the commonwealth’s schools being closed for the rest of the 2019–2020 academic year, there are many students who are depending on reliable electricity services and online access to complete coursework.
In efforts to support all local students, RURALBAND has deployed free wireless hotspots throughout the counties of Prince George, Surry and Sussex to help provide this access to students in these unprecedented times.
“We have made accessing the wireless service simple. When a user first connects their device, the user will see a splash screen with our logo and the name “Ruralband_HotSpot”; once the user accepts the terms and conditions of service, it is ready to go,” explains PGEC President and CEO Casey Logan. “There is no password necessary.”
A proposal for Prince George County, the Prince George Industrial Development Authority and PGEC’s subsidiary — PGEC Enterprises — to enter into a second agreement to bring fiber to the home in rural portions of the county was discussed at an April 28 Board of Supervisors work session, and if approved, more progress will be made.
The first phase of the agreement has already connected 780 homes in the county, and fiber to the home is currently available to over 1,800 residences and businesses there.
Both of the region’s electric co-ops are working day in and day out to ensure their members have electricity during the crisis, and their linemen are continuing to be the ones who put themselves out on the frontlines, while also practicing safe social distancing.
“The Cooperative knows it has a responsibility to keep the electricity on at our members’ homes, farms and businesses, and that’s what we’re doing,” says SEC’s Vice President of Operations Brad Furr. “At the same time, we are taking every possible safeguard to prevent spreading COVID-19.”
Line workers for SEC have been keeping the electricity flowing for its members by maintaining power lines, replacing poles, updating equipment and responding to outages brought on this spring by inclement weather. They continue responding to calls for service and to restore outages as safely and quickly as possible.
To ease the financial burden on the cooperatives’ members and communities they serve, both SEC and PGEC have suspended residential disconnections and related late fees.
Both co-ops have also supported the community and its students in other ways during the crisis.
SEC reached out to the communities it serves by donating to several multi-county food distribution centers and a number of local school systems to help with their meals programs. One of those school systems used the donations to purchase books for its students. Furthermore, the deadline for Southside Opportunity Fund scholarships was extended to allow more students to apply. Scholarships will be announced in June.
“The Cooperative is grateful for our members’ understanding and patience as we all work together to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in our communities. Ultimately, as we see this pandemic come to an end, together we can return to a sense of normalcy in our daily lives, stronger and more united than ever before,” emphasizes SEC President and CEO Jeff Edwards.
Five students in SEC’s service area received scholarships awarded by the Education Scholarship Foundation for the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC).
Additionally, two students in the PGEC service area have earned the same $1,000 college scholarships from the VMDAEC Education Scholarship Foundation. They include: Jacob Matthews of Disputanta, who attends Matthews Academy, and Amanda Harris, also from Disputanta, who attends Prince George High School.
"We are thrilled to have students in our area chosen for this prestigious scholarship opportunity,” comments PGEC’s chairman, Paul H. Brown. “At PGEC, we want to be involved in the community and supportive of the next generation of members — our youth.”
“The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and we are happy to be a part of their development,” Logan states. “Youth programs are a large part of contributions annually going back in the communities,” he adds.
Both SEC and PGEC care about their communities in the Gateway Region, and they are doing their part in ensuring that business operations outside of the office are possible to conduct.
This article is the latest in an ongoing series spotlighting the area’s existing businesses, leaders, and economic development efforts in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. It was contributed by staff of Virginia’s Gateway Region.