News

Chelan PUD partners up to address wildfire threats

by Rachel Hansen | Oct 20, 2020

Massive fires in Douglas County, California and Oregon last month put an exclamation point on an area of increasing concern. Wildfire risks are growing for Chelan PUD and its customer-owners. Chelan PUD is rising to meet that challenge with new tools and collaboration.

At the PUD Commissioner meeting Monday, staff outlined a community-based approach to build resiliency before, during and after a fire. (Starting at 00:52:00 on the board meeting audio recording).

The PUD is working with partners like Cascadia Conservation District, Firewise neighborhoods and government agencies to identify projects with mutual benefit to electrical infrastructure and fire-prone communities. Many of these opportunities come with the possibility of matching grants.

One of the early benefits of collaboration is shared data. PUD staff presented several studies and maps produced by other agencies that showed where Chelan County faces the highest risk of wildfire. Those maps matched a study commissioned by Chelan PUD to assess wildfire risk to PUD’s transmission lines.

“Everyone has a role in reducing wildfire risk to communities in fire-adapted landscapes,” said Patrick Haggerty, Forestry Program Manager at Cascadia Conservation District. “It is great to see Chelan PUD using the best available data to identify where their wildfire resilience investments can be most strategically located, and how those investments can best align with the ongoing work of communities, responders, and land managers.”

For several years, the PUD has been strategically fortifying the electrical grid against wildfire, including steel pole installation and fire-retardant paint. The utility has also adopted higher standards for tree-trimming and line inspection. This work was initiated by damaging fires in Chelan County in 2014 and 2015. Enormous fires along the West Coast in the past three years accelerated the PUD’s development of fire risk management strategies.

The PUD is also considering moving some power lines underground in a few isolated, rural, high-fire risk areas where a business analysis would indicate it is the lowest cost option for all PUD customer-owners.

PUD staff are also researching best practices and protocols regarding preemptive power shutoffs as an option during extreme fire and high-wind events.

“We’re beginning to rethink our position with respect to public safety power shutoffs,” General Manager Steve Wright said. “As wildfire damage to homes and businesses has become more prevalent, insurance premiums are increasing. Proactive actions to reduce fire risk are increasingly perceived as a best-practice.”

In other business, commissioners:

Reviewed the budget plan and strategic plan initiatives for 2021 (00:28:00)

• Heard a report about recent outages due to wind and rain storms during the week of Oct. 12. (01:36:38)

• Heard an update about a temporary change for customer service phone hours. Starting Nov. 2, customer service will be available by phone noon-5 p.m. weekdays to accommodate training and outreach efforts. In January, customer service will resume their typical hours, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (01:44:11)

Upcoming events:

  • Nov. 2 -- Commission meeting, 10 a.m., virtual meeting

  • Nov. 16 -- Commission meeting, 10 a.m., virtual meeting

  • Nov. 24 – Tri-Commission meeting, 1 p.m., virtual meeting

* * *

The next regular PUD commission meeting is at 10 a.m. on Monday, November 2. The public is welcome to attend remotely in accordance with the latest guidance from the state Department of Health.

Chelan PUD records most commission meetings, and a link to the audio is available on the PUD’s home page at www.chelanpud.org. Find us at Facebook.com/ChelanPUD and follow us on Twitter @ChelanPUD.

 

Here for you, providing the best for the most for the longest – chelanpud.org

Outages or Emergencies

Visit our Safety and Outage Center for information, or to report an outage, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, call 1-877-PUD-8123.

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