OPALCO clears lines for fire prevention and forest health

Submitted by Orcas Power and Light Cooperative.

Are you ready for fire season? OPALCO has a strong commitment to keeping its power lines clear of trees and brush in order to 1) keep field crews and co-op members safe, 2) reduce power outages, and 3) prevent damage to the islands’ electrical system. This reduces costs – saving member dollars – and helps to keep the lights on.

OPALCO completed several line clearing projects over the winter and, in doing so, collaborated with the San Juan County Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to improve forest health in the areas that are being cleared. Maybe you’ve seen the orange signs along the roads where projects are taking place? Now you can learn the ‘rest of the story’ by checking out a video about these projects called “Taking Care” https://youtu.be/8h5hi3ywkvg.

Fire season has become a regular feature in our region and OPALCO is taking care to protect our electrical system and surrounding properties with an abundance of precaution. While clearing trees away from power lines is a routine maintenance practice that OPALCO takes seriously, the opportunity to work with the CCC presented a new level of care with the crew providing labor and expertise to turn the woody mass into biochar. In this case, the biochar created is used on-site as a soil amendment for greater forest health – creating a longer window of healthy trees between trimming. In the near future, OPALCO hopes to obtain grant funding to initiate a pilot Biomass generation project – taking more woody mass out of our island forests to mitigate fire danger while also generating a small amount of local electricity to add to our growing local power supply.

Burn permits in San Juan County expired on May 31 by order of the Fire Marshall and the conservation burns for OPALCO’s line clearing projects will resume in October. Please help OPALCO to keep a safe clearance around power lines and electrical equipment by letting your Co-op know if trees are growing up into the lines on your property, by keeping shrubs and clutter away from electrical boxes and equipment, and by reducing woody mass on your property. Contact us at communications@opalco.com for questions about your right-of-way areas. Check out the Fire Wise program for more information and resources: https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Fire-causes-and-risks/Wildfire/Firewise-USA.

Contributed photo|OPALCO line clearing project on Squaw Bay Road, Shaw Island.