Submitted by OPLACO
Sunday, Nov. 26 was a long day for OPALCO linemen, engineers and staff members. A big wind storm knocked down transmission poles on Shaw at around 3:15 a.m. cutting off power to Shaw, Orcas, Crane and Blakely for more than 20 hours. All of San Juan County was affected for about two hours. A crew of nine linemen worked steadily to rebuild a span of seven transmission poles and power was restored by 11:15 p.m. A limb through the line at the Bonneville Power Administration substation on Lopez shut down power to Lopez and San Juan islands during the midday, but all were restored by about 1:30 p.m. OPALCO thanks the membership for their patience.
The event began with a tall tree across the street and outside of OPALCO right-of-way that fell and knocked down two transmission poles on Shaw Island that feed Orcas, dragging the wire from a span of seven poles. By 7:30 am, nine linemen were on Shaw, having brought over the trucks, equipment and supplies necessary to make the repairs. The crew set two new poles and then strung line for about a half mile to rebuild the system. Delays were caused as the crew found additional damage on the standing poles and had to replace hardware as they strung wire into the night.
Foreman Brian Swanson thanks Hardy Schmidt on Shaw for his support, equipment and tools, the fire department for their support, and the members on Shaw who delivered bags of groceries, hot coffee and goodwill to the linemen who, in some cases, worked for about 20 hours straight. “Their generosity and kindness were much appreciated,” said Swanson. “They kept the snacks and sodas coming into the night.” The ferry captain, carrying a line truck and trailer with a 70-foot pole, changed course to make it possible to unload on Shaw.
The real heroes of the day are the linemen who worked from dark to dark to rebuild the system and bring light and warmth back into homes. Take the time to thank a lineman when you see them. Their dedication and skillful work is what protects us and keeps local lives humming.
OPALCO realizes the importance of keeping members updated during an outage and will continue to make improvements based on member feedback and preferences for getting outage information.
Members asked why the lines on Shaw are still above ground. High voltage (69,0000 volt) transmission lines are all above ground for safe maintenance and faster outage repairs. The cost to bury high-voltage lines, as well as safety considerations for crew and the public, make it impractical to underground. The question of right-of-way clearing was also raised. OPALCO maintains a right-of-way around lines and also identifies possible hazard trees on private property outside the easement areas, working with members to remove them. In such a heavily forested environment, trees will always be an issue, and OPALCO will step up its right-of-way clearing program. Member cooperation is much appreciated!
In OPALCO’s 2018 budget, just passed by the board, the Olga substation will be upgraded, enabling staff to reroute power from the new BPA tap at Decatur through Olga to supply most of Orcas with power in the case of an outage in the main feed from the mainland, decreasing the dependency on the Shaw transmission. The project is scheduled for spring of 2018. Also in the budget, propane generators will be installed to prolong the backup period for communications throughout the islands, expanding the current eight-hour battery back-up duration.
Orcas Power & Light Cooperative is the member-owned cooperative electric utility, serving more than 11,000 members on 20 islands in San Juan County. OPALCO provides electricity that is 95 percent greenhouse-gas free and is generated predominantly by hydroelectric plants. OPALCO was founded in 1937.