A tougher grid: Chelan PUD energizes fire-hardened transmission line in Chelan

by Rachel Hansen | Dec 16, 2021

Chelan PUD re-energized a high-voltage transmission line rebuilt in fire-resistant steel for better reliability in the Chelan Valley. The months-long upgrade is part of a comprehensive plan to protect customer-owners and the electrical grid in Chelan County from the growing threat of wildfire.

“Fire-hardening remains one of the top concerns of our customer-owners,” said Transmission Systems Manager Steven Wickel. “When we talked with property owners nearby during the planning process for this project, we heard a lot of support.”

The transmission line powers the Chelan and Union Valley substations, which serve about 3,500 homes. The line burned down in a 2015 wildfire that blackened the shrub-steppe area. The Chelan Valley went without power for 36 hours while crews worked around the clock to rebuild the line.

“I wish we could have rebuilt with steel then, but a lot of these structures have to be custom-built. The manufacturing process for the structures we just raised took about a year,” said Transmission Systems Engineer Jim Caldwell.

As crews replaced 34 structures along the four-mile line from July to December this year, Chelan PUD re-routed power to maintain reliable electrical service for customers in the area. The $2.7 million project was finished on time, under budget and with no outages.

“This project went really smoothly,” Wickel said. “Going forward, we plan to continue fire-hardening the electrical grid where it makes sense to do so.”

The fire-hardening project is one of several by Chelan PUD to reduce fire risk and improve reliability. The utility’s wildfire risk mitigation plan calls for more frequent line inspections, hazard tree removal and fire-resistant paint.

In 2021, Chelan PUD increased its vegetation management budget from $1.5 million to $3.5 million to accomplish the work required by a more-frequent inspection and pruning cycle. By the end of this year, Chelan PUD plans to remove about 8,000 hazard trees – a seven-fold increase compared to five years ago.

Chelan PUD is also working with the state Department of Natural Resources, Cascadia Conservation District and other agencies to coordinate fuel reduction efforts and secure grant funding for projects that will lower wildfire risk in the county’s most vulnerable areas.

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