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BPA and partners cooperate and innovate to avoid an outage
2/10/2014 12:00 AM
When routine maintenance collides with extremely cold weather and increasing electricity use, it can send system operators, dispatchers and crews scrambling. That was the case Wednesday, Feb. 5, when BPA’s Tri-Cities District personnel believed their only option would be to do some switching that would turn the lights off in a small portion of Kennewick, Wash., for about 10 minutes.
It all started earlier in the week when a construction project at Franklin Substation caused the need for operators to switch load to other substations in the area. Things were fine Tuesday, but by Wednesday, voltage was dipping to unsafe levels, threatening reliability and garnering the attention of dispatchers, substation operators and other district personnel.
“At first glance, it appeared that we were going to have to switch load to other substations, which would have required us to cut power to a portion of Kennewick for 10 minutes or so,” says Chief Substation Operator Jay Van Buren. “I know 10 minutes doesn’t sound like a long time — but turning off the lights for even a short amount of time is always an option of last resort for us.”
District Manager Reed Campbell and other district personnel worked through the morning with their counterparts at Benton Public Utility District to coordinate the brief outage and do their work as quickly as possible. The work was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Benton PUD notified its customers in the area that was to be affected; meanwhile, Campbell and others refused to give up on finding an alternative that did not involve cutting power.
Dispatchers at Munro, Tri-Cities District operations staff and Benton PUD staff refused to accept the outage as the only option and worked furiously to beat the clock to identify an alternative that would allow power to continue to flow. Then it hit them, if they could get operators at Ice Harbor Dam to adjust VAR output to obtain matching voltages while the switching was performed in a different manner, they could keep the lights on. Dispatch contacted U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel and they joined the effort to keep the lights on.
BPA personnel, Benton PUD participants and Corps representatives devised a plan and decided all of the necessary work and switching would be performed at 2:30 p.m.
“There was a little risk that the plan wouldn’t work — but as we reviewed it, we felt the risk was small enough to justify trying to keep power flowing,” says Van Buren.
At approximately 2:30 p.m., in a coordinated effort, BPA, Benton PUD and the Corps each performed the work they needed to do to keep the lights on. Several minutes later, the solution was deployed and the lights didn’t even flicker.
“We could not have done this alone,” says Campbell. “Our dispatchers and the Corps really came through. I also want to thank Steven Hunter and his Benton PUD crew for their collaboration and hard work. It was a real team effort!”
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