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Big Winds Knock Power out for 18+ Hours in San Juan County

Shaw repairsIn the early morning hours of Wednesday, January 13th, a big storm hit the Northwest region of Washington state with wind gusts of 50-65 mph in the San Juan Island area. By 1:00 am, all of San Juan County was without power after large trees fell onto the Puget Sound Energy (PSE) lines feeding the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) substation in Anacortes – the last stop before power flows in submarine cables to power the San Juan Islands.

As the winds died down around daylight, hundreds of thousands in the region were without power. While mainland crews went to work on their territory, our OPALCO crews cleared trees that had fallen in the transmission lines on Lopez, Shaw and Decatur islands and repaired the damage done. They surveyed the power lines throughout the system, troubleshooting along the way, to prepare for bringing the power back up once the mainland was ready.

shaw repairsBy early afternoon, OPALCO’s system was ready to be energized but San Juan County had to continue to wait for the mainland power source to be restored. OPALCO’s Engineering team was in constant communication with BPA and PSE to coordinate the outage work. Around 7:30 pm, the mainland power to the islands was re-energized and OPALCO began to bring the power up in phases, to protect the system. As expected, there were a smattering of small outages that went later into the night due to equipment issues common with switching after a big outage. By 11 pm, all power was restored, and the crew was finally able to head home to their families and warm beds.

This extended outage is a good reminder we need to be prepared for emergency events. Please visit the Department of Emergency Management (http://joomla.sanjuandem.net) for some great tips on being prepared for a variety of situations. For power outages, make sure you have back up batteries especially for critical medical equipment and cell phones, flashlights, and nonperishable food (see the full outage prep checklist). With climate change and the changing energy market, San Juan County could experience more outages due to mainland issues. OPALCO is working on a plan for a bigger local power supply – stay tuned for more about our Island Way campaign – and, in the meantime, stock up on your outage supplies.

The best way to report an outage is through OPALCO’s SmartHub app: with just a couple of clicks (click on report issue/inquiry). OPALCO has your address in the system and the crews can respond accordingly. You can also call (360) 376-3599. Members are not able to report outages from social media at this time. If you want more detailed information and don’t have a smart phone (access to internet during an outage), make plans with an “outage buddy” who does for more detailed updates and information.

Once an outage is underway, OPALCO staff update our Social Media accounts (Facebook and Twitter @orcaspower) which feed to our website outage page and record phone messages. Depending on the size and duration of the outage, updates will come at regular intervals with as much information as we have. Restoration times are always difficult to predict, but we try to let members know if the outage will be for an extended time period (longer than 4 hours). The line crew works hard on repairs in challenging conditions and often can’t predict the extent of damage done until they are in the middle of fixing it – and additional issues can arise when power is brought back up after an outage. Check out this video that explains what happens during an outage: https://youtu.be/PPqYFzVD1FM.

OPALCO appreciates members’ patience during these difficult times. Please take the time to check on your neighbors: we are islanders – we are in this together.

If you have any questions or wish to know about outage supplies or reporting an outage, email communications@opalco.com.