EWEB to upgrade wildfire safety plans
Response to Red Flag warnings
May 27, 2021
EUGENE: “Although programs and practices are already in place to help prevent wildfires, the Eugene Water & Electric Board is developing a distinct Wildfire Mitigation Plan,” according to a report from the utility’s Assistant General Manager, Rod Price. During EWEB’s May 18th work session Price outlined new programs based on what California has developed for preparing for and responding to wildfires that he said should be transferable to the Pacific Northwest.
“Vegetation is the biggest impact for both reliability and fire risk,” according to Tyler Nice, the utility’s Electric Division Manager. Annually EWEB trims back trees and branches along about 280 miles of its electric line corridors. For this year, Nice said, an additional 125 miles extra of “hot spotting” zones have been added.
In addition, an upriver project for transformer replacement is planned for completion this year. Part of that work, Nice said, involves replacing three wires and one neutral wire with just one wire and one neutral. Eliminating the 3-wire alignment will eliminate “a kind of a cradle so debris doesn’t have a place to land,” he said.
Estimates for improvements along 35 miles of lines in upriver areas were in the range of $16.5 million, including burying some sections.
When power is turned off during Red Flag warning periods EWEB will also look at impacts besides reducing fire risks. “In rural areas, customers, including fire departments, rely on water systems powered by electricity, so their ability to have running water for life and fighting fires becomes compromised,” according to the staff report. “Some rural homeowners will install generators to help when the power is out, which now creates multiple alternate potential sources of ignition.” Besides educating the public to be careful when running generators, EWEB says their new plan will also coordinate with fire departments that might need electricity to pump water.
“Service disruptions also create real economic impacts such as spoiled food, inability to pump gas and operate a business,” according to the report.
State regulators expect to have rules in place during 2022 but EWEB expects to have its response plan complete by the end of this year.