Powering Station

August 2021

Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative warehouse supplies crews and members with materials for success

At Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC), the nuts and bolts in the warehouse add up.

Managing more than $1 million in inventory, purchasing agent and warehouse coordinator Paul Schneider is shopping every day. He and warehouseman Chris Driver are responsible for supplying the line crews with the materials they need to build and maintain the electric system.

While the warehouse is sometimes overlooked, the cooperative couldn’t run smoothly without it. Everything from paper towels to computers, bucket trucks, transformers, and more pass through the warehouse before being used to serve more than 27,000 SVEC consumers.

“We get a list of jobs each afternoon,” Schneider says. “Then we’ll have the crews ready to go out in the field the next day. We help keep the power and lights on for members. It’s very gratifying.”

Counting Supplies

If you ever want to catch Schneider when he’s under pressure, stop by the cooperative during the annual warehouse inventory audit.

“My two stressful times are hurricanes and the inventory audit,” he says. “We try to keep up with everything that’s ordered and counted. Everything that comes in and goes out, it’s all tracked. Plus, to add to the stress, the audit happens in October, right during storm season.”

After the October audit, around the first of the following year, Schneider puts out a request to different vendors for a year’s worth of materials. Whichever vendor provides the winning bid is required to help keep the SVEC warehouse stocked and to have additional supplies immediately on hand in its warehouse when SVEC calls for more.

“We want to get members the best possible price and keep rates down,” Schneider says.

Providing Supplies During Storms

Much of the SVEC staff is on high alert during storms, sometimes even staying overnight at the cooperative. The warehouse is no exception. It plays a vital role in getting members up and running again.

“Storms make for a lot of late nights and early mornings,” says Driver, a 14-year SVEC employee. “I recall noticing the pedometer on my phone counted 16,000 steps one day during a hurricane, just around the warehouse and yard. It’s a busy time.”

“During a storm, other utilities are scrambling for the same materials,” Schneider says. “At times, we have to strip equipment off a broken pole and use it again because replacements are so sparse. We’re always thankful for the help of our fellow co-ops. Before they come, they’ll often ask if we have enough poles. But, if you don’t have enough equipment to put on top of a pole,
the pole by itself will not get the lights back on. We always try to have enough material in the warehouse for three days of restoration, but storms can be tough.”

Keeping Supplies on Hand

Ask Schneider about working to keep materials in stock during the ongoing coronavirus situation, and he offers a solemn one-word answer: “difficult.”

“Before COVID-19, delivery time for a three-phase transformer was four to eight weeks,” he says. “Now, the wait is anywhere from 22 to 28 weeks or longer. And because there’s so many transformer variations, you can’t constantly have one in stock. It might not be what’s needed.”

Combine the difficulties of COVID-19 with rising costs and it becomes even more important to reuse all the materials crew members can. “It’s always appreciated if we can take materials and put it back out in the field,” Driver says. “It saves money for the cooperative and our members.”

The warehouse is also impacted by ongoing construction projects in the SVEC service area.

“We’ve seen an increase in land sales for new businesses and homes,” Driver says. “It’s great to have new people coming into the area, but it’s a challenge because we can’t predict what the future holds for new construction.”

Gathering Spot

Early in the morning, as linemen report to work, and in the afternoon when they return, the warehouse is buzzing.

“We enjoy the camaraderie with the crews every morning and every afternoon,” Schneider says. “It’s fun to get out and joke around. We have a good time.”

Don’t be surprised if there’s some playful ribbing and hearty laughs. “I enjoy my co-workers,” Driver says. “You can’t be a knot on a log back here. We like to cut up a lot. There’s a lot of joking, kidding, teasing. We make it fun.”

While everyone has plenty of fun, there’s also plenty of serious work.

“Almost everything flows through the warehouse to support members,” Driver says. “We make sure our hard work helps everything else run smoothly here and for our members.”