Stefan Bird mug

Stefan Bird

Our late February snowstorm did not earn a label or name of distinction, but that did not make it any less damaging. It closed roads and schools — and disrupted lives — with extended power outages. More significant than the damage, however, was the vibrant community spirit that we all saw from Oakland to Canyonville, from Diamond Lake to Winston.

When the storm hit, Pacific Power immediately went to work assessing damage so we could begin the repairs to get your lights and heat back on as quickly and as safely as possible. And our work did not stop following full restoration. In the storm’s aftermath, we are looking closely at any hazardous limbs or trees.

In 2019, we will be pruning trees along nearly 600 miles of lines in the Roseburg area, part of an extensive system-wide effort where we annually trim back more than 350,000 trees along about 15,000 miles of lines, removing potential hazards before, combined with heavy wet snow, they become an actual hazard. In 2017 and 2018, we pruned close to 1,000 miles of lines in the Douglas County area.

We have already started to see benefits from our recent metering upgrade, which added more intelligence to the grid, helping us pinpoint problems and respond more quickly during the storm. By being able to locate trouble areas faster, we are able to restore power sooner and keep our crews safer by directing them exactly to where they need to be, especially during dark, wintery conditions.

During the outage, restoration work continued around the clock — which was always ticking. Our local crews were soon joined by other Pacific Power employees and contract crews from Portland, Albany, Astoria, Coos Bay, Pendleton, Yakima, Walla Walla, California, Bend, Grants Pass, Medford and other areas. At the height of the restoration effort, we had 350 employees and contractors at work in Douglas County alone.

The damage was daunting. All told, in less than a week crews replaced approximately 125 transformers, 38 miles of lines, 260 cross-arms and 155 poles.

But local resiliency is about more than recovery when we have a significant storm event. We are always strengthening our overall system, with more than 300 projects planned system wide this year to upgrade lines and equipment. A special focus will be upgrading the substations in the Riddle and Winston areas to accommodate growth and make the grid more flexible. Each year we are working to protect wires from birds and birds from wires by sheathing connections and even moving nests to safer areas. Then there are the simple things, like adding visibility stripes to poles making them more obvious to drivers.

The intensity of the damage, the difficult terrain and the scope of resources necessary for repairs made this an especially challenging restoration effort. Access to damaged equipment was a particular problem. More than a foot of snow slowed our best efforts. Using Sno-Cats, snowmobiles and snowshoes when necessary, our crews got to the damage, climbed the poles and repaired lines.

Yes, it is their job, but you need a high level of dedication and caring to do this days on end. They have it. We want to specifically thank the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for their partnership over the decades. Great crews don’t just happen. They are forged with trust and through hard work.

We do work hard to make sure your power stays on, but weather can still overcome our best efforts. We understand severe weather situations like this try your patience — ours too. Hardship occurred throughout the county, where at one time more than 30,000 of our Douglas County neighbors were without power.

Throughout this storm, we witnessed neighbors helping neighbors in any way they could — sharing supplies, clearing debris and showing much-appreciated support for our crews out battling the elements to do their jobs. Getting through this mess truly was a community effort.

Pacific Power is proud to serve you and the community, and the patience and grit you demonstrated during the storm and its aftermath makes us even more so. We do our best to prepare for storms, by making the grid that serves you more resilient and training top notch crews to be ready whenever Nature strikes. We thank you again for your understanding during those days, and the opportunity to serve you every day.

Stefan Bird is the president and CEO of Pacific Power.

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