ELMORE - For a guy who was a state heavyweight wrestling champ for Fairmont High School and an NCAA top competitor, Jeff Balcom is pretty powerless these days, but he's "having fun with this," he said.
Balcom has taken the nickname "Powerless Balc" after his electricity was shut off Sept. 24 due to a conflict with Alliant Energy over who's responsible for an unstable electrical pole.
It all started the day after Thanksgiving last year.
Jeff Balcolm of Elmore examines a meter that was shut off Sept. 24.
The pole is just yards away from Highway 169 and located on land Balcom has owned for 13 years on the north end of Elmore. In high winds, it was leaning to the south, Balcom said.
"I called Alliant Energy and said my pole's leaning ... it's the one with the meter on it," he said.
"They came, tied a rope around my elm tree. I said, 'That's all you're going to do?' And they said 'Yeah, because we aren't responsible for the poles.'"
Balcom pulled the pole straight and strapped it to his tractor.
"They said, 'We'll let you know how much it is,' to replace it," Balcom recalled.
Word came back: $747.
"I said 'I'll leave my tractor on it,'" Balcom said.
"I was rather shocked," he added.
Balcom e-mailed the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Dec. 14 and received a letter dated Dec. 17 from Jacob Seamans of the Consumer Affairs Office. Seamans reiterated that the pole is Balcom's responsibility and included a copy of the Interstate Power and Light Company's Tariff that states: "If a pole is required, at said point of delivery, the Customer shall install, own and maintain said pole."
Seamans' letter also suggested Balcom contact the Interstate Power and Light Company and that Balcom could move the meter or install a new pole by Interstate Power and Light Company or a third party.
Seamans referred Balcom to Curtis Frank and Dale Schultz at Alliant Energy. An e-mail from The Sentinel requesting an interview with Frank and Schultz was not answered, but Frank and Schultz did visit Balcom's property and talk to him.
"The only thing they'd do at no cost was cut the power during normal business hours, they said," Balcom related.
On Aug. 16, he got a certified letter from Alliant Energy, signed by Greg Brouwer, manager of customer operations. It said, in part, "The current pole is considered a hazard. You own the meter pole that is on this property and it is your reponsibility to replace it."
The letter also said the problem needed "to be corrected within 30 days of this notice or service will be disconnected."
Balcom made a verbal agreement with Alliant to install a new pole, but he hadn't signed a contract to that effect yet, when he learned something: "Alliant will no longer be serving Elmore, and Benco Electric will," Balcom said.
(Benco is taking over Alliant's services in the area, but that will not happen for "at least six months to a year; closer to a year," according to Dave Sunderman, member services manager with Benco.)
"When I saw Benco was taking over, I put 'refused' on the contract for the pole," Balcolm said. "Never accepted the deal in writing.
"The morning of the 24th of September, my power was disconnected."
A religious man, Balcolm reads The Upper Room devotional online, which includes quotes from the Bible. The devotional for Sept. 24 included Isaiah 40:29, "He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless."
"At that point I was at peace with this," he said.
He also spoke to his pastor, Art Keith of the United Methodist Church in Elmore, who told him, "God does have a sense of humor."
While he is without electricity, Balcom is relying on propane to operate his heater, water and stove. He said he misses his microwave, and asked that anyone who has a propane microwave let him know, he said with a laugh.
One thing he doesn't have is lights, so when he needs to do some work, he goes to his "new office, the Elmore public library, which is a blessing from God," Balcom said.
He also draws strength from his neighbors.
"A lot of people have been really concerned about me having no power, but it really hasn't been that big a deal for me," Balcom said. "I'd like to thank everyone for their support and look forward to more Powerless Balc episodes."
To keep up with Balcom's adventure or view his videos, visit balcomauction.com, and click on the Powerless Balc link, or visit the Powerless Balc Facebook page.