Prelude to Power: On the Cusp of a New Way of Life

Oregon electric co-ops prepare to bring electricity to the Guatemalan village of Aldea Montañita de la Virgen in spring 2020.

By Ted Case

In November 2019, a planning team led by Roger Meader, the project leader for the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Guatemala initiative, spent four days in the country in preparation for electrifying homes and buildings in the village of Aldea Montañita de la Virgen.

The project is funded by money raised by Oregon’s electric cooperatives, and the infrastructure will be built by Oregon electric cooperative linemen. The planning team also consisted of National Rural Electric Cooperative Association rural electrification experts, and information specialists from Pioneer Utilities Resources and Golden Shovel. The following are excerpts from Meader’s trip summary.

Project Manager Roger Meader, an engineer and retired electric co-op CEO, surveys a school in Aldea Montanita De La Virgen.

When our group landed in Guatemala, we met NRECA’s contracted field engineer and continued its trip to the community of Aldea Montañita de la Virgen in the District of Jalapa, Guatemala, where it has been assigned to bring electricity.

The community is settled in an area of steep hillsides. The center of the community consists of three structures: a church, a community center/health center and a three-room schoolhouse. There are 60 homes with typically two to three rooms each: a family room, a bedroom and a kitchen.

The homes are in a rural setting and all consist of either cement, cinder blocks, adobe bricks or a combination of these materials.

The community gets its water from two springs: one for washing laundry and the other for drinking. Both springs are downhill, with the drinking water spring about a half mile down a steep hill. All the water must be hauled by hand.
Members of the community also collect rainwater.

Grinding corn for tortillas is a time-consuming process, and the cooking fire in the home creates an unhealthy environment. Electricity will have a dramatic effect on locals’ lives.

There is a lot of vegetation in the area with pine trees and many species of deciduous trees. The community is truly a subsistence community. They live on what they grow, including corn, beans, bananas, watermelons, squash, fruits, chickens, turkeys and game hens. They grow coffee to sell for income.

The ORECA group will have three community buildings and 60 homes to wire for electricity. The primary network will entail 32 poles with an average span length of 325 feet. Three transformers will serve the entire community.

Each home and building will need a meter base and a small breaker box, for future expansion. The walls on some of the homes are 12-inches to 15-inches thick. The goal for each home is one light fixture and wall plugs in each room.

We have nothing but positive feelings about our path so far and where we are going with this project. Our new friends are gracious, and several families invited us into their homes and proudly showed us where they live.
We have a great opportunity to make a dramatic effect on the lives of the families that live here.