Harnessing technology to empower a cooperative and its people
On my first visit to Newhalen, George invited me to his house for dinner, a gesture of hospitality rarely extended to a vendor on a work visit. He and his wife Funa proceeded to cook me a ribeye steak dinner complete with homemade coleslaw and mashed potatoes. It was fantastic. I realized very quickly this was more than just a dinner for me — it was a reflection of the genuine warmth they bring into their community. This act of kindness was the first of many instances that revealed George's deep-seated generosity. As the project unfolded, it became evident that the same spirit of giving and collaboration was central to George's approach to life and leadership at the Iliamna Newhalen Nondalton Electric Cooperative (INNEC).
George driving the INNEC boat to Nondalton.
Fireweed off the main road in Newhalen. George and Funa's long time family home can be seen on the far right.
Two years after first meeting George and discussing the possibility of a digital mapping project, he reached out with a simple yet significant phone call to revisit our discussion over lunch at one of our mutually favorite spots in Anchorage: Pho' Vietnam. It was clear to me that he never forgot our previous conversations and recognized the need for updating INNEC's decades-old system maps. Appreciating the nuances of such a substantial upgrade, George insisted on a hands-on approach. He flew me out to the area on Iliamna Air Taxi, giving me a comprehensive tour of the facilities and infrastructure. This first-hand look was invaluable. By understanding the specifics of their operations, I was able to provide a much more precise estimate that ultimately saved the cooperative a substantial sum, certainly in the tens of thousands. I now know to insist on a site visit when considering larger proposals for clients.
From that initial visit on through the comprehensive implementation later in the summer, George's familiarity with his community was unmistakable. He greeted everyone by name, and I lost count of how many times I heard, "Hey, George!" shouted back. "Super people," George would explain after they left. I noticed his humor served well as a bridge, making many of the introductions memorable. "Hey, when you see a drone flying over your house, could you try not to shoot it down? That'd be inconvenient for these guys."
"Hey, when you see a drone flying over your house, could you try not to shoot it down? That'd be inconvenient for these guys."
- George Hornberger, GM of INNEC
Even during the more technical aspects of our work, George was approachable and informative, ready to answer all of my silly questions about the difference between a sectionalizing cabinet and a secondary pedestal. He treated everyone this way, when talking to Nikki in the office, when residents had questions about their power service, etc. Every interaction reinforced for me that George had built up deep trust over years and years.
Whenever community members inquired about our activities, be it flying a drone or walking through their backyard to photograph a transformer, our association with George was our passport. His name alone fostered trust and openness. Our journey to Nondalton, accessible only by boat or plane, was especially illustrative of this. In the past, the community had experienced a challenging power outage in the dead of winter. The difficulty in responding to this crisis led the cooperative to invest in their own boat, enhancing their response capabilities for the community. George made the village a priority, stopping to visit friends while we were there for mapping. He even introduced us to board members, ensuring our project team wasn't just seen as contractors, but as partners in the community's progress. George's inclusive approach didn't just make our job easier — it made it more meaningful.
During the asset inventory phase, George's hands-on involvement was both impressive and unexpected. He took the wheel, quite literally, driving me around in his Ford Raptor to visit each of INNEC's distribution assets. Our days were a blend of adventure and meticulous documentation, as we tracked down every asset in the cooperative's network.
George's familiarity with the area was remarkable. He could pinpoint the location of almost every cabinet and power pole, no matter how hidden or off the beaten path they were. He seemed to know the purpose of every commercial building and the residents of every home. This experience underscored for me the vital need to document such invaluable knowledge. It became clear that when someone with George's level of understanding moves on, there's a risk of losing this wealth of information. Our project, in essence, was not just about updating maps, but also about preserving the kind of deep, personal knowledge that George brings to work every day.
Our project, in essence, was not just about updating maps, but also about preserving the kind of deep, personal knowledge that George brings to work every day.
This wasn't just about ticking boxes. George understands that the accurate mapping of these assets is crucial for the future planning and maintenance of the electrical system. His hands-on approach not only ensured a comprehensive inventory but also demonstrated the coop's diligence and showed how seriously they take their responsibility to their communities.
George and the radiator outside INNEC's emergency standby generator building in Nondalton.
The completion of our project has brought INNEC's system maps into the 21st century. The old print-out maps from the '90s, many of which don't even reflect the current state of the system, have been replaced with a detailed location-based inventory and photorealistic walkthroughs of key facilities. This upgrade is more than a technological leap; it's a practical tool that meets real-world needs.
The Kartorium implementation allows INNEC employees to virtually explore facilities, aiding in planning and daily operations, and the comprehensive asset inventory the team conducted was immediately helpful for an insurance audit and an ongoing depreciation study. By having accurate, up-to-date digital representations and asset properties, INNEC can conduct assessments like these more efficiently and accurately, ultimately leading to better financial and operational decision-making.
Various views of the INNEC implementation in Kartorium.
George Hornberger was instrumental in steering this project towards practical outcomes. He recognized the potential of digital technology not just as a flashy addition but as a means to enhance the cooperative's effectiveness. His insight was crucial in ensuring that these new tools weren't just about technological advancement, but about providing tangible benefits. This project isn't just a testament to INNEC's commitment to modernization; it reflects George's dedication to solutions that genuinely serve the cooperative and its communities.
As we wrap up this project, I can't help but reflect on what a distinct pleasure it was working with George this summer. His dedication to his community and the way he welcomed us into it made the work feel so worthwhile. I'm really looking forward to meeting more folks like George in the future and participating, through Kartorium, in all the unique ways they serve their communities. It's this kind of work that keeps me excited about what we do.
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