Jim Lueck, pictured at right, stands with two local Guatemalan girls and CREA Communications Director Mona Neeley in the Guatemalan village of Pie de Cerro.

Lueck visits Guatemala for electrification

    When electricity came to Holyoke in 1909, it brought along a host of changes. Electric light replaced candles and lanterns. Improvements in heating and irrigation saved farmers countless man-hours and increased the quality of living for rural communities.
    Now, two villages in the Guatemalan interior are experiencing the benefits of regular electricity for the very first time, thanks to a group of 16 Colorado and Oklahoma linemen.
    On Oct. 1, Highline Electric Association board member and Colorado Rural Electric Association board president Jim Lueck witnessed the electrification of Pie de Cerro and Tierra Blanca Salinas.
    Lueck said the villagers had sporadic access to electricity supplied by gas generators and solar power but never had electricity wired into their buildings.
    “It was an eye-opener for me,” he said. “We live in the same time zone, but they’re living in a different world.”
    The project was facilitated by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Lueck was one of four Colorado energy executives who attended the lighting ceremony.
    In conjunction with Empressa Municipal Rural de Electricidad, a local municipal utility company, the American linemen planted poles and strung power lines between the villages of Pie de Cerro and Tierra Blanca Salinas.
    The linemen arrived in the area Sept. 16. Villagers helped them hack through the dense jungle foliage to clear a path for the power lines.
    Using minimal equipment, the linemen scaled the poles, which were sometimes planted just a few feet in the soil. Lueck said curious children from the nearby villages often followed the work groups.
    Lueck and the other Colorado representatives arrived in Guatemala City on Sept. 30. From there, they took a van to the city of Coban, where they spent the night.
    CREA Executive Director Kent Singer, CREA Communication Director Mona Neeley and Southeast Colorado Power Association CEO Jack Johnston also made the trip to Guatemala, along with four representatives from Oklahoma.
    Lueck said the villagers of Pie de Cerro and Tierra Blanca Salinas are subsistence farmers who raise corn.  One of the most important developments that Lueck hopes will come from electrification is the automation of farming processes. Planting is still done by hand, and workers regularly haul bags of corn that weigh more than 450 pounds.
    Other local infrastructure problems include poor roads and a lack of clean water. The group that went with Lueck also took water purification units, as well as wheelchairs.
    During the lighting ceremony, a lightbulb was hung from an overhead line, and a local man flipped a switch to demonstrate the town’s connection to the power grid.
    The group returned to the U.S. on Oct. 4. Lueck said it’s difficult to know exactly how the new infrastructure will be put to use but that the NRECA will be monitoring the condition of the project as the relationship with the EMRE continues.
    “Hopefully it will change their lives, like when our grandparents got electricity for the first time,” Lueck said.

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