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Oregon PUC adopts power safety shutoff rules as wildfire season approaches

MGN

'A wildfire risk mitigation strategy of last resort' due to outage impacts

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – The Oregon Public Utility Commission said Wednesday it recently approved permanent rules for investor-owned electric utilities, including Portland General Electric, PacifiCorp, and Idaho Power, regarding public safety power shutoffs as a "wildfire risk mitigation strategy of last resort."

Temporary rules were implemented for the 2021 wildfire season while the PUC, utilities, public safety partners, and communities worked to finalize permanent rules. This is a timely decision, the PUC said, as May is National Wildfire Awareness Month and wildfire season quickly approaches. 

The three major utilities recently announced their plans and advised residents to create "outage kits" and take other preparations in the event of outages.

Here's the rest of the PUC's news release:

A PSPS is an important safety measure designed to help protect people and communities in high fire-risk areas by proactively shutting off electricity during extreme and dangerous weather conditions.

De-energizing power lines through a PSPS is a wildfire risk mitigation strategy of last resort because of the significant impacts the loss of power can have on communities and the extensive planning and communication that are needed to effectively implement them.

These new rules lay out specific communication requirements for the utilities to inform public safety partners, state agencies, local jurisdictions, and the public of the need to implement a PSPS to mitigate wildfire risk, as well as updates at least every 24 hours until service is restored. 

“Extreme fire weather can clearly happen throughout Oregon,” said Letha Tawney, PUC Commissioner. “Implementing a PSPS is a complex decision that impacts communities including use of home medical devices, access to 911 services, and the ability to pump water. However, it’s a tool in the utility’s tool kit to help reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, if they determine necessary.” 

View the order detailing the PSPS rules at https://apps.puc.state.or.us/orders/2022ords/22-159.pdf.  

The PUC is reminding Oregonians to get ready for the 2022 wildfire season and potential power outages. While the utilities have identified high risk zones, under extreme conditions PSPS could be utilized more widely.

How to Prepare for Wildfires Before They Happen

  • Register to receive alerts from official sources. Download the FEMA app and receive real-time alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations nationwide. Also, sign up for emergency notifications with your local city and/or county, as well as outage alerts from your electric utility service provider. 
  • Develop an emergency plan and make sure everyone in your household knows and understands what to do in the event of an evacuation.
  • Create a circle of safety around your home, which is a fuel-free defensible space that can help reduce fire danger. Visit Keep Oregon Green for more information. 

How to Prepare for a Potential Power Outage

  • Be two weeks ready – Gather food, medical supplies, batteries, pet supplies, among other things, needed by family members during an outage or evacuation for up to two weeks. Learn more about what supplies to consider.
  • For individuals with a medical condition that requires power, please contact your service provider in advance of an outage to register a Medical Certificate. This certification provides added benefits and helps the utility ensure they meet your needs in the event of an outage. Also, consider a backup generator or alternative location for power needs.
  • Keep cell phones fully charged in anticipation of an outage. Consider a car-charger for cell phones and other electronic devices.
  • Make sure your utility service provider has current contact information for notifications by updating your account online.
  • Access outage and PSPS information online for Portland General ElectricPacific Power, and Idaho Power

What to do During a Power Outage

  • Contact your electric utility service provider to inform them of an outage. Below is the contact information for the investor-owned utilities regulated by the PUC. If uncertain which utility serves your area, visit https://www.oregon.gov/energy/energy-oregon/pages/find-your-utility.aspx
    • Portland General Electric – 800-544-1795
    • Pacific Power – 877-508-5088
    • Idaho Power – 800-488-6151
  • Avoid downed power lines at all costs.
  • Stay clear of utility crews working to restore service in your community.
  • Use flashlights or battery operated lanterns for emergency lighting. Do not use candles or other potential fire hazards.
  • Turn off lights and unplug electric appliances except for the refrigerator and freezer to help avoid a surge to the system when service is restored. After turning off all the lights, turn one light on to know when power has been restored. 
  • Use generators safely – Do not run the generator inside the home or garage or anywhere near a window or vent, as these spaces can capture deadly levels of carbon monoxide. Learn more about proper use of a generator to avoid hazardous conditions. 
  • Check on elderly neighbors or community members with special needs who might need additional assistance.

Natural Gas Tips

  • If required to evacuate, no need to shut off natural gas.
  • If natural gas appliances do not operate properly once electricity is restored, call your natural gas service provider.
  • If natural gas service is shut off, do not turn on yourself. Call your natural gas service provider to restore service.
  • If you smell natural gas, evacuate immediately and call 911.

For additional information on fire prevention and preparedness, visit this PUC page.

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Comments

5 Comments

  1. Let’s not put fires out anymore. Let’s just run away from them and let them burn everything down. What is happening to our society?

    And why on Earth would the power need to be shut down for such an extended time simply because there is or to prevent a fire? A few hours I understand. Maybe even a whole day in the event of windy weather. But two weeks?! What?!

    1. Recent history has shown that there a wildfires that cannot simply be “put out”. But this article is about preventing from for starting in the first place due to downed transmission lines. The two week thing is a long-standing preparedness guideline. And I do know people who have lost power that long after a major wind storm: it just takes time for utilities to fix all the downed distribution lines. Folks living West of the Cascades should probably be ready to be self-sufficient for a month, for when the Cascadia earthquake hits.

    2. When a line is interrupted for PSPS, it has to be fully patrolled before it can be re-energized to ensure no damage occurred during the interruption. That takes a lot of time and labor. If multiple areas are affected by the PSPS event, resources get stretched thin and there aren’t enough folks to patrol all of the lines at once. Utilities work around the clock until restoration is complete because they want the meter turning just as much as customers want the lights on.

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