Contributed photo/OPALCO

Contributed photo/OPALCO

Strong winds lead to island power outages

After nearly 20 hours without power on Sunday, Nov. 26, it was lights out again for Orcas, Shaw and Blakely Islands.

Power went out on those islands in the early morning of Tuesday, Nov. 28, according to the website for the local energy co-operative, OPALCO, and was restored by 12:43 p.m.

About 35 percent of the co-op’s meters were affected by two outages that day, said Suzanne Olson, the co-op’s public relations administrator.

One was caused by a fallen tree on a Shaw Island power line at around 5:45 a.m. and one by a fallen tree across a Crow Valley Road power line on Orcas at around 8:15 a.m.

The power lines on Shaw Island, said Olson, are high voltage and cannot be buried. Having the lines above ground allows for quicker, safer repairs, she said, as well as islanders’ protection.

“If you dug into them, that would be the last thing you ever did,” said Olson about people unintentionally hitting buried, high-voltage lines.

One setback to above ground lines is that they can be damaged during high winds, like on Nov. 28.

Olson noted that winds that reached 55 mph on Nov. 26 also caused a tree to fall and break two Shaw Island power lines and rip out the wiring across roughly a half mile. OPALCO linemen spent roughly 20 hours repairing the outage that affected Shaw, Orcas and Blakely.

These transmission lines run from the co-op’s power source at Bonneville Power Administration on the mainland, through underwater cables, to OPALCO substations at 69,000 volts.

In comparison, distribution lines that run from local electrical transformers — those green boxes in neighborhood yards — are lowered to 7,200 volts to be used at 120 or 240 volts in houses and businesses.

Lopez Island also has high-voltage transmission lines, said Olson. A limb grazing that transmission substation caused another outage on Nov. 26 on Lopez and San Juan that lasted about two hours.

Unlike Lopez, Shaw’s less populated island is more densely forested, said Olson. She noted that OPALCO crew members cut trees on property, which they have legal rights to, and even ask members to remove trees on private land that could be hazardous to lines. The Shaw outages were caused by trees on private property, far from transmission lines, but were tall enough to reach lines or were blown further, said Olson.

Some islanders, on Nov. 26, did not have power until after 11 p.m., she added, because power must be turned on in batches to avoid overloading the system. She suggested customers turn on electronics, individually, when their power returns, as well.

For long-time Shaw Islander like Mike Simmerange, the outages are a nice change of pace.

“I’ve lived here about 20 years now; the outages don’t really bother me,” he said. “We stay warm with wood heat. In fact, I guess I kind of enjoy it when the power is out.”