The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

PUD board, foreman discuss recent outage


February 21, 2019

Line Foreman Shane Pfenniger stopped by the Wahkiakum County PUD Board of Commissioners meeting to recount the two hour county wide power outage event that took place last week and explain how the crew responded.

“The power went out at my house,” Pfenniger said. “Immediately I got text messages and phone calls from all the employees here. That indicated that it was a county wide outage. I called the crew in, we made our way to the substation and we called the dispatcher from BPA.”

Normally, Pfenniger said, BPA tells him what’s going on. This time, the dispatcher didn’t have a clue. His next call was to the Wahkiakum County Sheriff’s Office, but they hadn’t heard anything.

“Usually someone sees a flash in the sky, a cart hit a pole, something like that,” Pfenniger said.

Bonneville asked the Wahkiakum PUD to do switching for them. Pfenniger sent a crew to the substation in Grays River while he stayed at the Wahkiakum and Cathlamet substations located in Cathlamet. He was told that a switchman from Bonnevlle was headed to Naselle, but he was an hour away.

“It was about 39-40 degrees,” Pfenniger said. “I made the call to open reclosers at Puget Island, Skamokawa and Elochoman Valley. That way when power did come on, we didn’t have a big hammer on our transformers.”

Reclosers are described online as “small circuit breakers located at the top of distribution poles…Their function is to isolate a section of the feeder in fault and overload conditions and thereby minimize the number of customers without service.”

A little later, the dispatcher from Bonneville called back to report that the outage was 14 miles out of Naselle, which indicated to Pfenniger that it was somewhere between Cathlamet and Grays River.

With that information, and thanks to a switch installed a few years ago, the PUD crew was able to isolate the Cathlamet and Wahkiakum substations from the Grays River substation.

In other words, the BPA line, which runs in a loop which includes Portland, Rainier, Longview, Cathlamet, Grays River, Long Beach, Aberdeen, Olympia, and south again, had been broken between Grays River and Cathlamet. When the crew was able to isolate the Grays River substation from the Cathlamet and Wahkiakum substations, BPA was able to route power first to Cathlamet from Oregon, and a little later from Naselle to Grays River.

“From there, the crews did what they needed to do to get power to Puget Island and then Elochoman Valley and Skamokawa,” Pfenniger said.

Ihe next day, a witness came forward to say that they had witnessed a “big flash up in the mountains and heard a big kaboom.” It turned out that a tree had fallen on a BPA line in the West Valley area.

“I don’t think two hours was bad to get all that accomplished and get us back on,” Commissioner Dennis Reid said.

“Once everybody got in their place, it went pretty fast,” Pfenniger said.

It turns out that the power outage also slowed down the PUD, who had to open very large garage doors manually to get to their trucks and equipment. The PUD already has plans in place to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

“In my absence during this series of events, they had a number of snow related issues around the county as well as the Bonneville issue,” Manager Dave Tramblie said. “I think this staff is exceptional at what they do and they performed admirably under adverse conditions. I think they provide a great service to this community.”

In other news, Commissioner Gene Healy will be the PUD’s representative to the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Council of Governments for 2019.

Commissioners also approved a resolution that sets up short term succession in the absence of a general manager.

If the manager is absent due to vacation or sick leave, an emergency, or another event, and the district needs someone to make decisions, the auditor will act in his place for a period of 30 days. If the duration extends beyond 30 days, the PUD’s attorney will take the lead until the general manager can return or a replacement is found.


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