PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In an event held by Pacific Power, the Hood River community is learning their risk to wildfire and how the utility company plans to minimize it.
From the old methods of clearing tree limbs to new technology like insulated lines, Pacific Power says they’re trying to make improvements every year. Even still, there will be days where the power will be shut off because of fire danger and the utility wants to be able to get ahold of it’s most vulnerable customers.
“Technology and a lot of the infrastructure has improved, obviously,” said Simon Gutierrez, a spokesperson with Pacific Power. “Every year we’ve installed the most up-to-date equipment.”
There are thousands of miles of power lines in Pacific Power’s Oregon grid. The utility has upgraded a small portion of that to insulated power lines with plans for more next year. They say the lines are more resistant to animals or branches falling on the lines, which are known as ground faults. Censors are being installed on lines as well. So if one falls, it’s de-energized.
Customers asked if there are other ways to protect power lines, mostly due to the cost of running lines underground versus overhead.
“It’s usually about three times the cost if not more,” said Amy McCluskey, vice president of Wildfire Safety & Asset Management. “There are some projects where it’s closer.”
McCluskey estimates about 10% of lines are underground. Despite all the steps, extreme fire weather will cause public safety power shutoffs.
For people on medical equipment or who have other vulnerabilities, the utility says they want a way to contact them.
“We really need for our customers to tell us they have vulnerabilities and that can be a challenging thing to do for some people,” said Pacific Power’s Director of Emergency Management, Nora Yostov.
The chance of a shutoff will be announced days in advance and if one is imminent, Pacific Power will notify the day of. A jury even found Pacific Power caused wildfires in 2020 when the power was not shut off.
“Our wildfire mitigation plan we submit to the public utility commission is constantly evolving and changing,” added Gutierrez. “So there’s been some changes none of that is related to any ongoing litigation.”
This is one of several meetings Pacific Power will hold. The next meetings are in Pendleton on November 29 and in Bend on December 4.