New details posted at 2 p.m. June 2
BPA's power shutoff procedures
As climate change creates drier conditions in the Pacific Northwest during the summer months, utilities are challenged to ensure their equipment does not start or contribute to wildfires. This is why the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has added a public safety power shutoff (PSPS) procedure to its wildfire mitigation plan to protect public safety, life and property, according to a BPA release.
“This procedure is another preventative measure layered on top of world-class vegetation management, strategic asset management and risk-based planning – the cornerstones of our mitigation efforts,” BPA Administrator John Hairston said. “BPA is committed to taking appropriate actions to prevent, mitigate and quickly recover from the devastation wildfires bring to the people and communities we serve.”
BPA Officials said a public safety power shutoff should be rare and requires the evaluation of several different conditions, including weather and the status of the electrical system to determine a high risk of wildfire ignition. For BPA, these weather conditions include very dry ground, wind gusts above 60 mph and relative humidity below 20%.
“Taking a line out of service during a PSPS event is a measure of last resort,” BPA Vice President of Transmission Operations Michelle Cathcart said. “We recognize the important role that our transmission system plays in the Northwest and are committed to a facility-specific, risk-based decision process.”
BPA began considering a PSPS procedure in fall 2020 after last summer’s devastating and unprecedented Northwest wildfire season. Customer feedback helped inform the PSPS process put in place for the 2021 fire season. In a release, the BPA said it is important to note that taking a BPA transmission line out of service does not necessarily mean Northwest residents and businesses will lose power.
“BPA is committed to providing as much prior notification as possible to customer utilities, generators and state emergency managers, particularly when PSPS will result in service interruptions,” BPA Vice President of Transmission Marketing and Sales Tina Ko said. “Because weather is one of the variables involved, our notification windows may be compressed at times. However, we will do everything we can to help customers and emergency management officials plan for the lack of electricity these events can cause.”
BPA released its first Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WMP) in 2020. See the updated WMP attached.
Previous Chronicle coverage posted May 29
Oregon fire officials are warning of an early and possibly more intense wildfire season this summer and fall due to the continued dry conditions and warm temperatures.
In preparation for the wildfire season, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) has approved temporary rules that include controlled blackouts, or so-called public safety power shutoffs (PSPS).
The rules provide near-term guidance for utilities to enhance the safety of Oregonians as more expansive permanent rules are further developed, according to the PUC.
“With the earliest official opening to Oregon’s wildfire season in 40 years, the establishment of these rules was extremely important and timely,” PUC Commissioner Letha Tawney said. “They are designed to help keep Oregonians safe by establishing criteria on how the utilities communicate about and coordinate during a PSPS, and particularly how they issue notifications before, during, and after a potential PSPS in order to provide the PUC, public safety partners, and the general public useful and timely information.”
The electrical shutoffs are used in California as a protective measure and were first used in Oregon in the fall of last year near Mt. Hood.
The PUC said the shutoffs would be used as a last resort to protect the public and property from wildfires.
The temporary rules will remain in effect through mid-November 2021. The PUC will continue working with the utilities, public safety partners, and the communities to develop permanent rules to further enhance public safety as the electrical system adapts to extreme wildfire risk.
Wildfire Awareness Month
In observance of Wildfire Awareness Month and in response to an earlier than normal Red Flag Warning issued by the National Weather Service in April, the PUC is also encouraging Oregonians to get ready for the 2021 wildfire season and the potential power outages.
“If the Labor Day Fires in 2020 taught us anything, it’s to be ready for future wildfire events, regardless of where you live in Oregon” PUC Commissioner Letha Tawney said “The PUC and other state agencies are providing information early to help Oregonians avoid being caught by surprise by wildfires that may require evacuations, utilities to implement public safety power shut-offs, or cause wide-spread power outages.”
Prepare for wildfires before they happen
Register to receive alerts from official sources. Download the FEMA app and receive real-time alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations nationwide. Also, sign up for emergency notifications with your local city and/or county, as well as outage alerts from your electric utility service provider.
Develop an emergency plan and make sure everyone in your household knows and understands what to do in the event of an evacuation.
Create a circle of safety around your home, which is a fuel-free defensible space that can help reduce fire danger. Visit Keep Oregon Green for more information.
Prepare for a potential power outage
Wildfires can cause power outages, or electric utilities may elect to implement a public safety power shutoff. This is a safety measure designed to help protect people and communities in high fire-risk areas by proactively shutting off electricity during extreme and dangerous weather conditions that might result in wildfires. If a PSPS becomes necessary for electric utilities to implement, the service providers will contact their customers directly.
Oregonians are encouraged to do the following to prepare for a potential power outage before the 2021 wildfire season:
• Be two weeks ready – Gather food, medical supplies, batteries, pet supplies, among other things, needed by family members during an outage or evacuation for up to two weeks.
• For individuals with a medical condition that requires power, please contact your service provider in advance of an outage to register a medical certificate. This certification provides added benefits and helps the utility ensure they meet your needs in the event of an outage. Also, consider a backup generator or alternative location for power needs.
• Keep cell phones fully charged in anticipation of an outage. Consider a car-charger for cell phones and other electronic devices.
• Make sure your utility service provider has current contact information for notifications by updating your account online.
During a power outage
Contact your electric utility service or natural gas provider to inform them of an outage. If uncertain which utility serves your area, visit www.oregon.gov/energy/energy-oregon/pages/find-your-utility.aspx.
- Columbia River Public Utility District - 503-397-1844
- Clatskanie Public Utility District - 503-728-2163
- Portland General Electric – 800-544-1795
- Pacific Power – 877-508-5088
- NW Natural Gas - 800-422-4012