Electric co-op training center opens

By Ruthann Carr, correspondent

The sun shone brightly. The sky was blue. A soft breeze wafted through the air.

It was a hearty Fluvanna welcome to the new electric cooperative training center on Salem Church Road.

About 120 dignitaries, locals and members of the Virginia Maryland Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC) gathered Wednesday (May 22) to cut the ribbon on the $1.5 million building.

Rudy Garcia, Valerie Palamountain, Richard C. Johnstone, Jr., and Darryl Gibson stand in front of the Storm Soldier sculpture outside the new electric cooperative training center on Salem Church Road. Photo by Ruthann Carr.

VMDAEC is made up of 15 member cooperatives in the three states, said CEO Richard G. Johnstone, Jr.

The association has been training power line workers on the nine-acre parcel across from Central Virginia Electric Cooperative’s home office since 2013.

While VMDAEC had the outdoor equipment needed, administration and indoor training went on in a triple-wide modular structure until they erected the 9,600 square foot building they gathered to dedicate.

Johnstone said it was built in “the cooperative way.”

CVEC sold the nine-acre parcel to the association at a “very reasonable price.” It partnered with Southside Electric Cooperative to supply components of a substation for trainees. With the contributions of the rest of the co-ops, the project was paid for exclusively by the members and came in on time and under budget, Johnstone said.

CVEC’s President and CEO Gary Wood said the center will be important to Fluvanna’s economy.

“A thousand or more people will be training here and staying four to five days,” Wood said.

“This is [also] an important investment in our line workers. We call on them to work within arm’s reach of a dangerous amount of electricity. Then when a thunderstorm comes we count on them to put on their capes and come save us,” Wood said.

Fluvanna County Administrator Steve Nichols spoke to the crowd and joked about the weather.

“Welcome. You know this is our normal weather. This is what it’s like here every day,” he said, warning they may have to go somewhere else to train in adverse weather conditions.

Nichols touted Fluvanna’s central location and accessibility as assets to the center.

Johnstone said that was exactly why VMDAEC decided to stay in Fluvanna.

“We decided to build our permanent center here because this location is excellent,” Johnstone said. “It’s very close to the geographic center of our three-state territory and easily accessible from I-64 and Route 15. So it just made sense to stay with what has worked for us in the past.”

Fluvanna Chamber of Commerce Board President Rudy Garcia welcomed VMDAEC’s commitment to the county.

“This is an example of what happens when people work together and cooperate toward a common goal,” Garcia said.

Training is ongoing for power line workers and the amount of training events increased 75 percent since 2016, Johnstone said.

“The job of a line worker is changing almost daily, thanks to new technologies and innovative equipment,” he said. “The need for a comprehensive training center like ours is more important than ever, and we look forward to working with those who will keep the lights on for the next generation.”

And it won’t be just line workers who’ll be coming to the center.

Over its lifetime, the Fluvanna center will train thousands of cooperative employees and directors, Johnstone said. “We’ll be providing training to engineers, accountants, customer service representatives, and the elected directors who serve on the boards of our member cooperatives. We’ll also offer training to employees from Virginia municipal electric systems, and we intend to work with community colleges as well.”

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