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OPALCO Linemen Work Dark to Dark to Bring Back the Light

55 MPH Winds Sweeps Power Outages Across San Juan Islands

Sunday, November 26th was a long day for OPALCO linemen, engineers and staff members. A big wind storm knocked down transmission poles on Shaw at around 3:15 am cutting off power to Shaw, Orcas, Crane and Blakely for more than 20 hours and all of San Juan County was affected for about two hours. A crew of nine linemen worked steadily to rebuild a span of seven transmission poles and power was restored by 11:15 pm. A limb through the line at the BPA substation on Lopez shut down power to Lopez and San Juan islands during the midday, but all were restored by about 1:30pm. OPALCO thanks the membership for their patience.

down power line The event began with a tall tree across the street and outside of OPALCO  right-of-way that fell and knocked down two transmission poles on Shaw Island that feed Orcas, dragging the wire from a span of seven poles. By 7:30am, nine linemen were on Shaw, having brought over the trucks, equipment and supplies necessary to make the repairs. The crew set two new poles and then strung line for about a half mile to rebuild the system. Delays were caused as the crew found additional damage on the standing poles and had to replace hardware as they strung wire into the night.


It really does take a village. Foreman Brian Swanson thanks Hardy Schmidt on Shaw for his support, equipment and tools, the Fire Department for their support and the members on Shaw who delivered bags of groceries, hot coffee and good will to the linemen who, in some cases, worked for ~20 hours straight. “Their generosity and kindness was much appreciated,” said Swanson. “They kept the snacks and sodas coming into the night.” The ferry captain, carrying a line truck and trailer with a 70’ pole, changed course to make it possible to unload on Shaw.

The real heroes of the day are the linemen who worked from dark to dark to rebuild our system and bring light and warmth back into our homes. Please take the time to thank a lineman when you see them. Their dedication and skillful work is what protects us and keeps our lives humming.

power line down

OPALCO realizes the importance of keeping members updated during an outage and will continue to make improvements based on member feedback and preferences for getting outage information.

Members asked why the lines on Shaw are still above ground. High voltage (69,0000 volt) transmission lines are all above ground for safe maintenance and faster outage repairs. The cost to bury high-voltage lines, as well as safety considerations for crew and the public, make it impractical to underground. The question of right-of-way clearing was also raised. OPALCO maintains a right-of-way around lines and also identifies possible hazard trees on private property outside the easement areas, working with members to remove them. In such a heavily forested environment, trees will always be an issue, and OPALCO will step up its right-of-way clearing program. Member cooperation is much appreciated!

In OPALCO’s 2018 budget, just passed by the Board, the Olga substation will be upgraded, enabling us to reroute power from the new BPA tap at Decatur (2017) through Olga to supply most of Orcas with power in the case of an outage in the main feed from the mainland, decreasing our dependency on the Shaw transmission. The project is scheduled for Spring of 2018. Also in the budget, propane generators will be installed to prolong the back-up period for communications throughout the islands, expanding the current eight-hour battery back-up duration.

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