Extreme winter weather leads to county-wide power outage

Submitted by Orcas Power and Light Cooperative.

Just before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 22, as temperatures dipped into the low 20s, a mainland electrical feeder serving San Juan County lost power. Shortly after the power went out, the Bonneville Power team helped identify the cause of the outage which was faulty equipment on Puget Sound Energy’s transmission system. OPALCO crews were called out and remained on standby for when the mainland repairs were complete.

The OPALCO team waited eight hours for PSE crews to respond and complete the work on the mainland feed. Throughout the evening and into the wee hours of the morning OPALCO was in constant communication with BPA and PSE to coordinate the outage work.

At 2:10 a.m., the mainland power to the islands was re-energized and OPALCO began to bring the power to the islands back up. They did this in phases to help protect the system. When the power goes out during such extreme temperatures, the grid must be managed carefully since picking up such a heavy load too quickly will overload the system. Since the mainland outage lasted so long and the outside temperatures remained so low, parts of the OPALCO system were overloaded resulting in smaller neighborhood outages. About 1200 meters remained without power through the night as OPALCO crews worked to repair and restore the localized system outages. By Friday afternoon, most OPALCO members had their power restored.

This extended outage is a good reminder to be prepared for emergency events. Please visit the Department of Emergency Management (https://www.islandsready.org/) for some great tips on being prepared for a variety of situations. For power outages, make sure you have backup batteries, especially for critical medical equipment and cell phones, flashlights, and nonperishable food (see the full outage prep checklist at www.opalco.com).

Once an outage is underway, OPALCO staff update social media, the OPALCO website and the phone system. Please get your information directly from OPALCO as other sources can provide misleading or inaccurate information. Restoration times and causes of outages are difficult to communicate while the crews are in the field fixing the outage under extremely challenging conditions. The team often doesn’t know the extent of the damage until they are in the middle of fixing it and additional issues can arise as an outage progresses.

OPALCO appreciates members’ patience during these difficult times. OPALCO is incredibly grateful to our talented line crew and their commitment to keeping our lights on.

Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (OPALCO) is our member-owned cooperative electric utility, serving more than 11,400 members on 20 islands in San Juan County. OPALCO provides electricity that is 97% greenhouse-gas free and is generated predominantly by hydroelectric plants. OPALCO was founded in 1937. Follow OPALCO @OrcasPower on Facebook and Twitter.