In October 2019, Iowa's electric cooperatives participated in their first international electrification project titled "Partners for a Brighter Tomorrow."
Working in conjunction with NRECA International, electric cooperatives from Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin joined forced to send a team of 12 linemen down to the rural village of Salinas 7 Cerros in north-central Guatemala. The group worked 12-hour shifts for 16 days in extreme conditions to build out infrastructure to electrify 42 households, a school, a health outpost and a church in the community.
Four linemen from Iowa electric cooperatives worked in Guatemala:
- Mike Berkenpas, North West Rural Electric Cooperative in Orange City
- Quentin Fisher, Linn County Rural Electric Cooperative in Marion
- Mat Kilgore, Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative in Estherville
- Bob Ruby, Access Energy Cooperative in Mount Pleasant
The 12-man crew installed 2.5 miles of line and two transformers on 45 poles erected across a mountainous, jungle-covered terrain without the use of high-tech equipment or advanced machinery. The villagers dug holes for the power poles, carried the poles to their specific locations and helped pull wiring to supply the power, all by hand. Each home was wired for lighting and outlets.
The villagers live in extreme poverty and didn’t have plumbing, running water or food refrigeration because they lacked access to electricity. They depend on farming to sustain them economically and produce corn, beans, cardamom seeds and other vegetables. Access to affordable, reliable electricity will improve safety and save these villagers money as they will no longer need to purchase candles, kerosene or batteries.
Before heading back home, the linemen presented each student in the village with a backpack containing supplies and new shoes and gave each household a water filtration bucket filled with supplies. The water filter will provide clean water for two years.
Chuck Soderberg, executive vice president and general manager of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, attended the lighting ceremony in the Guatemalan village which signified the end of the project and the beginning of electric service. “Bringing electricity to this remote area really takes us back to our cooperative roots of bringing opportunity to rural America in the 1930s and 40s,” remarked Soderberg. “It’s incredible to see how access to electricity improves quality of life and Iowa’s electric cooperatives are proud to be a part of this story.”