Taking the Big Hit

By David Bailey, General Manager

September 2023

Remember Chuck Bednarik? As an Alabama fan, I know him because an award was named after him to honor the country’s best defensive college football player. An Alabama player has won it three times, and if it had existed before 1995, I suspect that number would be higher. For me, Derrick Thomas is probably the greatest defensive college player of all time.

Bednarik is most famous for tackling the New York Giants’ Frank Gifford with less than a minute left on the clock. With Bednarik’s rival Philadelphia Eagles leading, 14-10, and the Giants driving toward the end zone, Gifford caught the ball and looked downfield. Closing in from the sideline, Bednarik leveled him, knocking the ball free for the Eagles to recover the fumble. In a famous photo, Gifford is laid out on the field like a dead man while Bednarik pumps his fist and shouts, “This game is over,” albeit in slightly more colorful language.

What does all this mean for your cooperative? Let’s review some of the issues we’ve been facing since 2020. First is the supply chain. It can still take over a year to receive regular size transformers for our residential members. We need to pray that our country doesn’t have any major weather events because this would cause farther delays and may extend power restoration time. Basic wooden utility poles can take three to eight weeks depending on the size, and meters can take nine months or more. This isn’t some-thing we’ve dealt with before in our 85-year history but has been an issue over the past three years.

Now we’re facing a new challenge. It has to do with electrical steel, an iron silicon alloy essential for a variety of electrical machines from transformers to electric motors. You’ve probably heard about the big push toward electric vehicles. EVs need electrical steel for their motors, and there is an electrical steel shortage in our country.

Currently, there is one domestic producer of electrical steel. Yes, I said one! In March, that manufacturer told the Department of Energy that scaling up steel production would not be easy or cheap. Meanwhile, two other manufacturers are working on increasing their electrical steel production, but the domestic supply is still likely to fall short of our needs.

So, what can we do? I always like to look back to history and I’m reminded of the late 1800s when Andrew Carnegie built the Carnegie Steel Company, turning the U.S. into the largest steel producer in the world. He later sold it to J.P. Morgan, forming the basis of the U.S. Steel Corporation and making the U.S. economy the strongest in the world. It’s a great example of capitalism.

I say let’s let capitalism work. Slow down unrealistic regulations and ease the mandates pushing for all vehicles to be electric by a set year. If they really are the next big thing, the consumer will make that clear.

In the meantime, your electric cooperative’s main focus is providing our members with reliable, safe and affordable electricity. That includes meeting the needs of our growing community without being ham-strung by long wait times for essential equipment.

My hope is that we aren’t out of the game like Frank Gifford just yet. He missed a whole year of football recovering from the vicious hit he took from Bednarik. I know electric cooperatives will overcome these issues and serve our members. With fewer regulations and more government action like the Rural Electrification Act that established this cooperative, we’ll be ready to march forward. Lastly, Bednarik was a great American serving his country in WWII as a B-24 waist gunner.

Until next month, be safe.