On August 3, 2018, Seattle City Light sent 19 employees and support equipment to California to assist in restoring the electrical infrastructure damaged by the Mendocino Complex fire. Four four-person line crews, three operators, a supervisor, a safety manager and a fleets manager departed from the South Service Center in SODO with large bucket trucks and digger derrick trucks that dig holes for setting utility poles. The crews are trained in construction methods for both transmission and distribution work.
Since August 5, these City Light crews have been working to restore power to homes and cellular phone towers impacted by the fire, which is now the largest in California history. They are working in mountainous terrain with narrow roads. Downed trees and other debris have made travel difficult at times. Working in smoky conditions, the crews have been using moistened cooling cloths as bandanas to filter out the smoke.
The crews start their day at 7:30 a.m. with a tailboard meeting that provides any updates on the fire. Next, they have a safety meeting. Then they receive their work assignments for the day, collect materials and supplies for the crew and depart from their staging area in Lakeport, California.
“We have enough personnel. We have enough equipment,” said South Field Operations Supervisor Ed Hill. “It is a godsend having a mechanic with us.” The mechanic has been able to make repairs to vehicles in the field, saving the crews time and getting them back to work faster.
Crews have been warmly received to the area. Along with signs thanking firefighters and first responders, they spotted one that said, “Thank you, linemen.”
PG&E, the local electric utility, has told the crews to plan to stay for at least four more days. They still want to make repairs in a neighborhood called Spring Valley, but that area is not yet safe to work in because of the fire.
Seattle City Light crews are working today to reduce the risk of additional damage to the Skagit Hydroelectric Project from the advancing Goodell Creek Fire and are preparing to start repairs to damaged transmission lines.
Crews are working to clear vegetation around a wood pole line between the Diablo and Ross dams and powerhouses. The crews also plan to wrap the 70 wood poles in fire resistant material to reduce the risk of damage should the area burn. The line delivers backup power to restart generators and run control panels. The poles also carry fiber optic communications lines for the facilities.
Thursday, crews plan to start on-the-ground inspections 11 transmission towers for damage. Aerial views indicate that several of the towers have been damaged.
Safe access to the equipment in rugged terrain with fallen trees while the fire continues to burn is the first consideration for any of the work to take place. Provided with safe access, crews could start making repairs to the transmission lines by Saturday.
Damage to the transmission lines has limited City Light’s ability to generate and deliver power from the Skagit Hydroelectric Project. The utility has been able to resume generation of about 40 megawatts of electricity from its Gorge Powerhouse and deliver it on the North Mountain transmission line.
Typically, this time of year, the utility would be able to generate about 150 megawatts of power from the Skagit. The loss of transmission capacity is costing the utility about $100,000 a day.
Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to about 750,000 Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.