Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, Sept. 8, 2023 @ 3:54 p.m.

Local Officials Seek Electric Redundancy As Pacific Power Brings Del Norte's Substations Back Online

Pacific Power's schedule of outages as it switches its Del Norte County substations over to power from its transmission lines.

The electric company serving Del Norte County will begin re-energizing its transmission corridor as soon as Sunday, provided officials battling the Smith River Complex wildfires assure that it’s safe.

Pacific Power released a transmission cutover schedule on Thursday that calls for bringing most Del Norte County substations back online without the use of industrial-sized generators by 11 p.m. Sunday.

Meanwhile, a Pacific Power spokesman told the Wild Rivers Outpost that the utility has been exploring ways to ensure the power will stay on even if a wildfire threatens its main transmission corridor.

It’s this redundancy that members of the Tri Agency Economic Development Authority — a newly resurrected joint powers authority consisting of Crescent City, Del Norte County and the Crescent City Harbor District — is advocating for.

Harbor District Board President Wes White said the Tri-Agency is working on a letter template that stakeholders can use to urge both PacificCorp, the Bonneville Power Administration and the Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative to make that redundancy a reality.

Stakeholders will include the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, the Curry County Board of Commissioners, the Crescent City and Brookings city councils, the Port of Brookings Harbor and the Crescent City Harbor District, White told the Outpost on Thursday.

Letters will also be sent to state and Congressional representatives in Southern Oregon and Northern California, White said. The public can also weigh in, White said.

“I want to make it easy for the stakeholders as a template letter that will go specifically to people like Bonneville Power, Coos Curry Electrical Cooperative and Pacific Power,” White said. “We got the letter to all the stakeholders, but we don’t have the template ready so the stakeholders can use it to customize it to their needs.”

Pacific Power de-energized the transmission corridor serving Del Norte County and Crescent City ahead of the Smith River Complex on Aug. 18. Two of the fires, the Holiday and Kelly fires were within a half mile of the two transmission lines that bring electricity to roughly 13,000 customers.

Pacific Power began shipping generators into Del Norte on Aug. 21, plugging them into the county’s substations to ensure their customers had access to electricity.

According to spokesman Simon Gutierrez, Pacific Power told its customers that they could resume normal electricity use, including powering higher energy devices.

Pacific Power deployed 81 large generators to Del Norte and provided residential generators to about 200 customers with medical needs as well.

Pacific Power also provided residential generators to about 15 customers in the Patrick Creek area. The generators use an average of roughly 47,000 gallons of fuel every 24 hours, Gutierrez said.

“The current effort to power Del Norte County using generators is unprecedented in the company’s history,” Gutierrez said.

Brian Stone, who, along with White, represents the Harbor District on the Tri-Agency, said he and White were asked to speak with Pacific Power and Coos-Curry Electric representatives about the electric redundancy issue during the fire emergency.

Stone said he met with Pacific Power CEO Stefan Bird, who visited Del Norte County during one of the community meetings about two weeks ago and learned that electricity redundancy was something both PacifiCorp and Coos-Curry had known about since 2007.

Pacific Power’s existing transmission lines were built in 1946 and 1956, Gutierrez told the Outpost on Aug. 29. One of the lines was rebuilt to accommodate higher voltages between 1977 and 1986 and have been maintained since then.

But, according to Stone, those lines are 67 kV lines compared to Coos-Curry Electric’s lines, which are 110 kV, meaning they can accommodate a larger voltage load.

For Pacific Power to upgrade its transmission lines, using steel poles rather than the current wooden ones, would cost between $117 million and $130 million, Stone said, adding that those numbers came from Curtis Mansfield, PacifiCorp’s senior vice president of power delivery, who also met with Tri-Agency representatives.

“This will take us up to 110 kV. It would bring (Pacific Power’s transmission lines) up to the Coos-Curry amount,” Stone said.

Gutierrez confirmed that Pacific Power has been exploring the possibility of re-establishing an electricity source into Del Norte County from Brookings, Oregon for about a year and a half.

“This solution requires additional planning studies between the utilities to ensure the capacity and financial investment is prudent and permitting alternatives options are available for the transmission system upgrades,” Gutierrez told the Outpost. “Undergrounding transmission is typically cost prohibitive and, while an option, would be very difficult given the terrain.”

Pacific Power will also conduct a review of its response to Del Norte’s wildfire emergency and “make a determination about future best practices thereafter,” Gutierrez said.

According to Stone, when Pacific Power de-energized its transmission lines the only source of electricity in Del Norte County were the solar panels at the Crescent City Harbor, which produces roughly half a megawatt of power.

“When the whole thing went south with the fire, we literally could not recapture power that we were generating during the day because we just have an offset agreement with PP&L,” he said, referring to Pacific Power. “All the power’s fed into the system and they give it back to us. We didn’t have power coming back to us.”

Pacific Power customers can expect power outages of one to two hours as the utility starts switching its substations over to its transmission lines. Customers can see a full schedule of outages by clicking here.

"Pacific Power would like to thank the staff at Del Nort eCounty and the Incident Management Team working the Smith River Complex fires for their partnership and communication, as well as the exhaustive efforts to protect and serve the surrounding communities," the utility said in a Thursday news release.


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