Power Restoration

Winter Storm Slams Pacific Coast

By Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: January 21st, 2012

A massive winter storm that pummeled parts of the Pacific Coast is keeping electric cooperative lineworkers in parts of two states busy restoring power.

Joe Jackson clears the road near his hay farm in Finley, Wash., Feb. 18, following a winter storm that hammered parts of Washington and Oregon with heavy snow winds as high as 110 mph. (AP Photo/The Tri-City Herald, Kai-Huei Yau)

Joe Jackson clears the road near his hay farm in Finley, Wash., Feb. 18, following a winter storm that hammered parts of Washington and Oregon with heavy snow winds as high as 110 mph. (AP Photo/The Tri-City Herald, Kai-Huei Yau)

“We’ve had scattered outages on both of our peninsulas,” Jonathan White, director of member services and marketing for Peninsula Light Company, said Jan. 19. The Gig Harbor, Wash.-based co-op serves more than 30,000 consumer-members north of Seattle.

“Freezing rain has been causing trees and tree limbs to fall on power lines,” White said, adding that at least 2,500 of the co-op’s meters have been affected.

The frigid temperatures have also boosted demand for electricity as consumer-members spend more time at home.

“We’ve seen about a 25 percent increase in power usage on a sustained basis,” said Joel Mietzner, system engineer for Eastsound, Wash.-based Orcas Power and Light Cooperative.

The storm system began causing problems across parts of Oregon and Washington Jan. 14, and was still bringing high winds, heavy snow and freezing rain to some areas seven days later.

“We had three-fourths of our system dark for a couple of days,” said Marc Farmer, general manager of West Oregon Electric Cooperative. Crews from the Veronia-based co-op have been working with 10 contract crews to restore service to about 3,200 members.

In some cases, trees half the length of football fields have toppled into power lines. In others, heavy branches, blasted free from mountainsides by high winds, have struck power lines in cleared rights of way.

Orcas employees replace a breaker at a substation after a winter storm  boosted demand for electricity. (Photo By: Orcas Power and Light)

Orcas employees replace a breaker at a substation after a winter storm boosted demand for electricity. (Photo By: Orcas Power and Light)

“We have trees that are 120 to 160 feet tall,” Farmer said. “There are more than 2 million trees and our 4,300 meters sprinkled among them.”

Further south, hurricane force winds racked the Oregon coastline in the service territory of Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative.

“We’ve had wind gusts as high as 110 mph in the north and predictions on Wednesday were near 75 mph for the rest of Curry County,” said Christine Stallard, marketing and member services manager. Co-op crews were working to restore service to more than 1,500 members.

Heavy rains along the coast, coupled with thawing conditions, prompted flood and flash flood warnings for low-lying areas.

“We’ve had 7.5 inches of rainfall, with another 2.5 inches projected for the next day or so,” Stallard said.

More than two feet of snow fell in some valleys, and transmission corridors through higher elevations are clogged with twice that amount. Some co-ops in the region not affected by the storm are now joining restoration efforts.

“At least two co-ops have asked us to put out the word for assistance,” said Ted Case, executive director of Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “We’ve got a lot of trees falling into lines, so things have been pretty tough.”

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