Power Blackouts To Prevent Wildfire? Utility Companies In The West Are Getting Ready

July 18, 2019
Power linesPower lines BLM
Power lines

Several utility companies in the West have announced they will institute power blackouts in areas with high fire risk when conditions are particularly bad. 

Nevada Energy is one of those companies. It serves a large portion of the state. Chris Hofmann, director of grid reliability, said he’s watched wildfire risks grow over the years. 

“Utilities have to adapt,” he said, “so it just finally reached a head where it was like listen we’ve gotta move to this.”

Hofmann said the plan -- called the Public Safety Outage Management Plan -- is a last resort for when factors like lightning, wind, and extreme heat arise in vulnerable locations near power lines. That’s when there’s a risk of those lines sparking flames like we saw in California’s deadly Camp fire last year.

“So we have consultants,” Hofmann said, “a meteorological consultant as well as a fire risk consultant that help us determine the risks in those areas.”

Temporary power outages could put people in danger too, but Hofmann said sparking the next big wildfire would be worse.

Several other utility companies have instituted similar plans including Rocky Mountain Power which serves Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho.

Colorado Springs Utilities does not have a planned power outage program. Steve Berry with the agency said they have an aggressive mitigation project to prevent fires around important infrastructure, but to institute planned blackouts would require more extensive community dialogue. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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