Bird Flu's Lesson for Co-ops

When bird flu hit this huge egg facility served by Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative it also affected the co-op. (Photo By: Iowa Lakes EC)

When bird flu hit this huge egg facility served by Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative it also affected the co-op. (Photo By: Iowa Lakes EC)

SAN DIEGO—What impact could bird flu have on an electric co-op? You'd be surprised.

Avian influenza struck on Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative's system in early April 2015.

"We had a couple of turkey sites that were infected, and at the end of the month the largest egg processing and production facility on our system was impacted," said Jed Skogerboe, manager of business and community development at the Estherville-based co-op. 

For Iowa Lakes, the egg facility alone was a 6.5-megawatt load. 

By the end of August 2015, 30 million hens and 1.5 million turkeys were infected and euthanized across Iowa. More than 8,000 jobs vanished.

"Twenty-seven of our 34 turkey sites were infected; the impact was a combined loss of 10 million kilowatt-hour sales and about $550,000 in revenue loss," Skogerboe told a Jan. 31 session of Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives NET 2017 at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort.

And that wasn't all. The co-op couldn't risk transmitting the disease from one site to another. "The liability implications for the cooperative would've been devastating," said Skogerboe. 

"We had to become familiar with several different protocols," including making sure line crews knew to check with site managers before entering.

Additional concerns included which staffers had backyard flocks or went turkey hunting, as there was a 72-hour restriction on contact with birds. 

"They're all little things that could've had a big negative impact for the cooperative," said Skogerboe. 

Iowa Lakes belongs to the Iowa Poultry Association, which helped the co-op stay updated. Skogerboe encouraged co-ops to join trade associations that are relevant to their commercial members.

And in true co-op fashion, Iowa Lakes reached out to help affected members.

"We took the opportunity to work with the site manager on energy-efficiency upgrades," said Skogerboe, adding that the co-op and its G&T helped with rebates.

He urged key accounts reps to "be prepared to help your members when disasters come up."

"Pay close attention to their facilities when you have a chance to tour them, so that when these types of things come up you know what you can do to help."

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