OPALCO will be moving the overhead power lines underground this fall from the (temporary) Doe Bay bridge to the Eagle Lake intersection. The project, once contractors can begin, will take about six weeks with some limited traffic disruptions. When the project is complete, the system will have increased capacity, greater reliability, shorter outage times and a clean view corridor along that scenic section of Doe Bay Road. The new conduit will also carry Rock Island fiber-optic cables, providing new connection points along the route.
The conversion (overhead to underground) is necessary to ensure reliability in the area, particularly during winter storms. OPALCO had originally planned to simply replace the power lines on the overhead spans, but outage data showed frequent faults on that section of the line during windstorms, which justified the additional expense to underground the lines. The cost to have to repeatedly repair the system in the middle of a stormy night – in dollars and also measured in risk to our crews and members who are out of power – far outweigh the expense to rebuild the system. OPALCO’s distribution system is about 87% underground, and the Co-op is always looking for opportunities to storm-harden the remaining overhead lines.
In addition to moving the lines underground, the system will be upgraded from single phase to three-phase, which is a significant capacity increase. The project begins on the east side of the bridge; once the new bridge is installed, OPALCO will complete the line segment across the new bridge.
Project engineer, Ed Lago, will work with the contractor to minimize traffic disruptions. “We have easements for much of the project,” said Lago. “Which means we can get the trenches dug without disrupting the road.” Where easements were not granted, the contractor will strive to keep at least one lane of traffic open. For some road crossings where the substrate allows, the crew will bore under the road to install the conduit.
Once the contractors are ready to start and a timeline is established, OPALCO will publish project information in its newsletter, in the local papers and online. A project information board will be posted at the Doe Bay Fire Hall with updates as they occur. Project delays due to weather are expected during the fall construction season.
OPALCO’s reliability rating for 2022 was 99.87%. We have a strong system, a qualified and dedicated co-op team and more than 85 years of experience operating in the San Juan Islands. However, outages still happen in our rural remote archipelago, and OPALCO will continue to strengthen and upgrade our system to maintain reliable power.