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HomeFeaturesWhen Nature Turns Out the Lights: LMUD Behind the Scenes

When Nature Turns Out the Lights: LMUD Behind the Scenes

by Theresa Phillips
LMUD Energy Services Manager

Friday, August 10th around 5:00p.m. the power blinked on and off several times – then came the final bump and the power was off. The phones at Lassen Municipal Utility District’s business office started to ring, “My power just went out, do you know what’s going on?”

When the power went out on August 10th it was due to PG&E de-energizing the main transmission line that wheels power through the Feather River Canyon to LMUD. Although LMUD does not purchase power from PG&E we do receive our purchased power over PG&E lines.

The Caribou line was de-energized by PG&E for safety concerns – the Chips Fire burned into the path of the power line creating a hazardous situation. There was not sufficient time for PG&E to notify LMUD of the impending interruption in power – therefore LMUD did not have the opportunity to notify our customers.

As soon as the power went out, LMUD personnel contacted PG&E personnel and started working on a plan to re-route power from the Caribou line to an alternate feed.

One of the options considered was feeding LMUD through the Hat Creek line (which runs from the north near Burney) due to complications; this was not a viable alternative. The other option was “islanding” with local power producer, Honey Lake Power.

An LMUD lineman at work during the Cut-Off fire last week near Litchfield – Photo by Niki Cunningham

The islanding protocol is considered a last ditch effort and can only be authorized by PG&E under extreme circumstances. It is also a time intensive process (there are 52 steps) that can take upwards of five to seven hours to complete.

At approximately 8:00p.m. PG&E personnel informed LMUD’s operations manager that LMUD could not island with HLP and that PG&E would re-energize the Caribou line – restoring power to LMUD’s customers.

You can see power lines on fire in this August 15th Forest Service photo of the Chips fire

Wednesday, August 15th the Chips Fire continued to threaten LMUD’s power supply from PG&E, the Caribou Line was once again de-energized. This time PG&E was able to give the LMUD operations center advanced warning and we in turn were able to notify our customers.

Once the Caribou line was re-energized LMUD was able to restore power to its customers.

It is important to note that restoration does not happen all at once – the system must be brought up piece by piece in order to keep from over-loading the grid.

LMUD making repairs after a wildfire at the south end of Susanville in July

As the Chips Fire continued to burn and threaten our power supply – LMUD’s operations manager monitored the situation. We braced our customers for possible outages – not knowing if we would get advance notice or not.

Thursday August 16th, at approximately 2:30p.m. the call came from PG&E’s command center – they were shutting down the Caribou line.

As soon as we got the word from PG&E, LMUD staff released information to our customers through local media outlets. The Lassen County Times, SusanvilleStuff.com and The Sierra Radio Network all helped us get the notification out.

The bad news was our power was going out – the good news was that we had authorization to island with Honey Lake Power; however, the switching process was going to take at least five hours.

Now it was “all hands on deck!” LMUD line crews staged for the switching process – the customer service department was stationed to answer the phones, our business office manager manned the two-way radio and I focused on providing the most up-to-date information to our customers.

Calls came pouring into the office – naturally everyone wanted to know what was going on and how long the power was going to be out. The best we can do is to give you the information we have as we get it – often the information is changing rapidly – as was the case on Thursday night.

Our first estimate was the power would be out five hours, as it turned out, we were not able to complete the switching process until 2:30am Friday morning. As I said before, the switching process is time intensive – 52 separate steps from start to finish. If one thing goes wrong then we have to start over from step one.

Honey Lake Power’s facility near Wendel – Photo by PR Web

One of the most crucial components of switching to Honey Lake Power (HLP) is bringing our load back up. Imagine an electrical outlet in your home; if you try to plug too many appliances into that one outlet you’ll overload the circuit and trip the breaker, this is the same concept.

Once we have connected the entire load to HLP it’s a fragile situation. When running at full capacity, HLP can generate around 30 megawatts of power – enough to carry our load but just barely. This is why we ask our customer to take extreme conservation measures.

We all must work together to insure we have the power we need when we need it. Thank you to everyone who heeded this warning and has done their part to keep the power flowing.

LMUD trucks arrive on the scene whenever fires involve transmission lines.

Thank you also to Pat Holley, Honey Lake Power’s General Manager and his crew – without their help and expertise the switching process would not have been possible, and a big thank you to Jasper from PG&E – Jasper kept us informed and helped us to get the go-ahead to initiate the switch.

We all realize that it is frustrating for our customers to be without power – but often times when the power is out the situation is out of our control. Fires, winter storms and acts of nature can wreak havoc on the power supply.

Although we can’t control Mother Nature we can prepare ourselves for this type of situation. Please visit the Center for Disease Control Emergency Preparedness web site www.emergency.cdc.gov for a list of items you should have on hand in case of an emergency.

You can always find up-to-date information regarding our power situation at www.lmud.org, click on the “News” link at the top of the home page.

As always, should your power go out, please call our 24 hour customer service hotline at 530-257-4174.

 

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso
SusanvilleStuff.com Publisher/Editor
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