In light of the California wildfires, electric utilities are focusing their efforts to assure reduction in the size and severity of wildfires through strategic depowering of segments of the electric system. 

Portland General Electric, PacifCorp, and the Bonneville Power Administration are partnering with local governments to build capacity in their systems to strategically and surgically depower electric lines at times when the probability of fire starts are high, like during lightning storms. Plans are being made in several counties. Currently, Hood River, Douglas, and Josephine counties have engaged in plans with utilities to prepare for this method of wildfire mitigation.

During the September Legislative Days, the House Interim Committee on Energy and Environment in their robust agenda reviewed actions related to strategically shutting down portions of the electrical distribution system to mitigate the impacts of wildfire. 

Curry County Commissioner Court Boice and Josephine County Commissioner Lily Morgan testified before the committee on their county plans and experience.

Commissioner Boice testified via phone and discussed the fire risk in Curry County and how power lines factor into the risk.

Commissioner Morgan painted a harrowing picture of what fire season has looked like over several decades for Southern Oregon. Commissioner Morgan and Josephine County Emergency Services Manager Sara Rubrecht explained the implementation process from the county’s perspective as PacifiCorp began implementation of their power shut off plan. “Our number one concern are the citizens in Josephine, Jackson, and in Douglas counties who would be affected directly by the loss of power,” commented Rubrecht. Presenters made clear there needs to be careful consideration for medically vulnerable people who need access to power for health reasons, for example, those who rely on supplemental oxygen. They also explained regulatory barriers that prevented efficient implementation of power shut off. The program is a work in progress and communication between PacificCorp and the county are strong and working well.  

For more information, or to watch the hearing, click here.

Contributed by: Megan Chuinard | Public Affairs Associate