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Hydropower Flows Here
How BPA addresses wildfire risk
9/10/2019 12:00 AM
Stuart Koreiva, a temporary lineman for the Salem line crew, works to fasten a new crossarm on a wood pole for the Oregon City-Chemawa No. 2 115-kv line north of Salem, Oregon. The crossarms in this transmission corridor were identified in a review of transmission assets as a component needing replacement that could potentially ignite a fire if the equipment failed.
The following article first appeared in the
Hood River Electric Coop
edition of Ruralite to address community concerns of BPA’s approach to mitigating the risk of fire.
Wildfires are nothing new. A rekindled interest in the origins of these fires following a devastating 2018 fire season, though, has led Bonneville Power Administration to re-examine its existing preventative measures and consider what additional mitigation can be implemented to ensure both public safety and reliability of the grid.
Line equipment operator Don Griswold of the Salem line crew positions a new crossarm for Nathan Ward, lineman foreman III, and temporary lineman Stuart Koreiva to fasten on a wood pole structure on the Oregon City-Chemawa No. 115-kv line.
For years, BPA has largely relied on a robust and proactive vegetation management program for its transmission corridors that has been recognized as best in class in North America. That paradigm was informed, in part, by the perspective of how to protect BPA’s grid of high voltage lines from fire and ensure dependable service to customers with minimal interruptions.
However, in the fall of 2018 as the wildfire season across the West grabbed headlines and national attention, leadership in BPA’s Transmission organization ordered a top-to-bottom review of all transmission assets, vegetation management and even training of field crews and operators to better understand the potential risks associated with a piece of BPA equipment or the actions of an employee.
BPA has always taken a proactive stance on managing transmission assets to uphold our high standard of reliability. With the heightened awareness in the utility industry of the potential for equipment to be a source of fire ignition, BPA is actively reducing that risk by repairing or replacing those transmission components identified as having the highest potential for igniting a fire.
But this is not an effort that can be addressed once and then considered complete. Our understanding of risk is constantly evolving and becoming better informed. Our asset management program will actively weigh those fire risks when determining the priority of work to be completed on our transmission equipment and facilities.
BPA is also using real-time data to help inform operational changes. Our Weather and Streamflow Forecasting group monitors conditions throughout the Columbia and Snake River basins. This group sends alerts to our Transmission Field Services and Transmission Operations organizations, highlighting geographic areas in our service territory that are currently experiencing an elevated fire risk based on existing conditions and current weather forecasts. That environmental data coupled with our risk analysis of transmission assets will help inform the agency’s operational decisions.
One example of this is a change in protocol for our dispatchers when a BPA transmission line relays out of service. The BPA transmission system is built to automatically test or attempt to reclose a line and maintain service along a corridor. Previously, if that initial, automatic test failed to reclose the line, our dispatchers would, in some instances, have attempted to manually test the line one more time. This is because in many cases whatever caused the line to relay out of service is a temporary occurrence – for example, a lightning strike or a falling tree or branch that briefly contacted the line or came close enough to cause an electrical arc – that is no longer impeding the safe flow of electricity.
The Salem line crew out of Chemawa worked for several weeks to replace crossarms along the Oregon City-Chemawa No. 2 115-kv line north of Salem, Oregon. The crossarms in this transmission corridor were identified in a review of transmission assets as a component needing replacement that could potentially ignite a fire if the equipment failed.
Under the new protocol, if the line in question has components identified as having a higher risk of fire ignition, dispatchers will not attempt to reclose the line until a transmission line crew has visually inspected it to ensure that it is safe to test and bring back into service.
It is important to note that this new protocol, while reducing the risk of fire ignition, will likely result in longer outages, particularly with transmission lines that may be located in remote and hard-to-access areas. However, BPA believes that the inconvenience is well worth the improved mitigation of wildfire risk and the safety of our field crews and the public.
There is substantial interest from the media and the public regarding the practice of utilities de-energizing lines as a preventative measure to address potential wildfires. BPA has evaluated this practice, and it is not an action we have taken to date. However, BPA does not preclude the possibility of de-energizing lines if conditions indicate a clear and imminent threat to life, safety or system reliability.
In over eight decades, BPA’s transmission infrastructure has never been associated with either the start of or contribution to a major wildfire. It is a legacy we work on every day to preserve as we power the Northwest.
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