By Kevin Wingert

Bonneville Power Administration crews clear the right-of-way along a transmission corridor. Keeping the corridor free of trees and vegetation reduces the risk of outages and reduces fire danger.

Wildfires are nothing new. However, a rekindled interest in the origins of these fires following a devastating 2018 fire season has led the Bonneville Power Administration to reexamine its existing preventive measures and consider what additional mitigation can be implemented to ensure public safety and grid reliability.

For years, BPA has largely relied on a robust and proactive vegetation management program for its transmission corridors. 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.

As the wildfire season across the West grabbed headlines and national attention in the fall of 2018, leadership in BPA’s transmission organization ordered a top-to-bottom review of all transmission assets, vegetation management, and training of field crews and operators to better understand 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. With heightened awareness in the utility industry of the potential for equipment to be a source of fire ignition, BPA actively reduces that risk by repairing or replacing transmission components identified as having the highest potential for igniting a fire.

This effort cannot be addressed just once and considered complete. BPA’s understanding of risk constantly evolves. Its asset management program actively weighs fire risks when determining the priority of work to be completed on transmission equipment and facilities.

BPA also uses real-time data to help inform operational changes. Its weather and streamflow forecasting group monitors conditions throughout the Columbia and Snake River basins. This group sends alerts to BPA’s transmission field services and transmission operations organizations, highlighting geographic areas in its service territory that are experiencing an elevated fire risk based on existing conditions and current weather forecasts. That environmental data, coupled with risk analysis of trans- mission assets, helps inform the agency’s operational decisions.

A BPA transmission line crew replaces components on a 230-kilovolt line that was identified as having a high potential for igniting a fire if the equipment failed.

One example is a change in protocol for BPA 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, dispatchers would, in some instances, have attempted to manually test the line one more time. This is because in many instances, whatever caused the line to relay out of service is a temporary occurrence, such as a lightning strike or a falling tree or branch that briefly contacted the line or came close enough to cause an electrical arc, but is no longer impeding the safe flow of electricity.

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 it is safe to test and bring back into service.

It is important to note that this new protocol will likely result in longer outages, particularly with transmission lines that may be in remote and hard- to-access areas. However, BPA believes the inconvenience is well worth reducing wildfire risk, and the safety of its field crews and the public.

There is substantial interest from the media and the public regarding the practice of utilities deenergizing lines as a preventive measure to address potential wildfires. BPA has evaluated this practice. It is not an action taken to date, but BPA does not preclude the possibility of deenergizing lines if conditions indicate a clear and imminent threat to life, safety or system reliability.

In more than eight decades, BPA’s transmission infrastructure has never been associated with either the start of or contribution to a major wildfire. BPA works every day to preserve this legacy as it powers the Northwest.

Benefits of Tree Trimming for Co-op Members

Clearing trees and vegetation growing near our power lines is vital to our ability to provide you with safe, reliable power. Our linemen work year-round to clear rights of way around our power lines to:

  • Keep our line crews and community members safe.
  • Reduce the risk of vegetation contacting the power lines and catching fire.
  • Reduce unexpected costs for repairs.
  • Restore power outages more quickly.

Tree Trimming Near Individual Service Lines

If your home is connected to co-op lines by an overhead wire—called a service line— please check periodically to ensure trees are not growing into the path of the wire. Trees can cause problems for service lines.

Tree limbs that occasionally brush a service line won’t damage it. But a tree limb or trunk that is pushing a service line out of its normal path should be trimmed or removed. This kind of interference can damage the electrical equipment in your home or cause an outage for you and your neighbors.

Is it Time to Trim?

If you see trees growing into your service line, please let us know. We will inspect your serviceline and trim or remove trees that are growing too close.

Let us Trim or Remove Trees Near Service Lines

Never trim or remove trees that are growing near your service line. Doing so puts you at risk for deadly electrical shock. To request trimming, call 541-354-1233 and provide your name, service address, phone number and a description of the needed work.