Labor Day Power Outage Recap
On September 7, 2020, a strong windstorm swept through our area knocking down trees and power lines and causing power outages for more than 11,000 of our members. Many of these outages began with damages to transmission lines owned by our transmission service provider. While these outages can require considerable time to restore, power was restored to most members within 24 hours. During the outages, 11 KEC and contract crews managed nearly 30 separate outage locations across our service territory. After service was restored to our members, our focus shifted to helping others. Two of our crews were dispatched to help Inland Power & Light restore power to the cities of Malden and Creston. The damage those cities face is nothing short of catastrophic and we were glad to help.
The following are frequently asked questions we heard from members during the storm:
Why was the power out for so long?
As part of our wildfire mitigation plan, KEC monitors elevated fire danger or red flag warnings issued by the National Weather Service. During times of elevated fire danger, we modify the operations of our electric system. This aids in fire protection but can increase the duration of power outages (KEC’s plan does not include scheduled power shutdowns). When outages occur during these conditions, crews must patrol all lines in areas experiencing outages before energizing power lines. We realize this makes the outage restoration process longer, but it is a necessary step to prevent fires.
Why can’t you tell us when power will be restored?
Generally, KEC includes estimated times of restoration (ETR) on our outage map (www.kec.com/outage-map) when they are available. During severe storms such as this one, it is very difficult to make accurate estimates and often we are unable to give ETRs until crews are able to get into the area and assess the damage. For this storm in particular, it was also difficult to provide ETRs because of the transmission line outages, which required correction by other utilities before power could be restored. This was further complicated by the fire mitigation steps mentioned earlier.
What is KEC doing to keep trees from falling on lines?
To minimize the risk of trees contacting our overhead lines, KEC has an aggressive vegetation management plan. We trim rights-of-way to provide for the minimum clearance distance of 30 feet, or 15 feet either side of the power line. We also ask members to call and report any trees they see close to our primary lines or dead trees that may fall on our lines. KEC will remove trees threatening our lines at no cost to landowners. KEC does not trim service lines (the line from KEC’s transformer to your house). That is the homeowner’s responsibility. We will come out at no charge and drop the service line so the member can trim service line trees safely.
Storms usually have members asking why doesn’t KEC put all the power lines underground?
Currently more than half of our power lines have been built underground. Almost all new construction is also built underground. Underground lines can be three times the cost of overhead lines. After the wind and snowstorms of 2015 KEC was awarded more than $10 million in special grant funding from FEMA to convert approximately 50 miles of our most problematic overhead lines to underground.
KEC is currently working to apply for additional FEMA funding to convert more lines to underground.
Should I help your crews by cutting trees that have fallen on power lines?
If a tree has fallen into power lines on your property, please stay away and contact us as soon as possible. Downed power lines are dangerous. Never touch them. For safety’s sake, always assume that a fallen power line is live, and follow these guidelines:
Avoid touching the downed line with your hand or an object, such as a stick, broom or pole.
Avoid touching anything, such as a car, object or equipment, or anyone who is in contact with a fallen power line.
Avoid driving over a fallen power line.
Trees and water conduct electricity. Do not spray water at a live power line. You can become electricity’s path to the ground if you are touching water that touches electricity resulting in injury or death.
Where can I get updates during outages?
We encourage members to sign up for outage alerts by text or email using your SmartHub account. Remember to keep your contact information (phone and email) updated with us so we can notify you in the event of planned power outages. During large outages, updates are also available at: www.facebook.com/KootenaiElectric.
Julie Turbin is KEC’s Vice President of Operations and Operational Services. She has worked for KEC for more than 25 years.