SHERWOOD, Oregon — Wildfires in Oregon have been especially destructive the past several years. Climate change and record heat are part of the equation, and so are power companies. On Wednesday Portland General Electric talked about its plans to limit the risk moving forward.
At PGE's Sherwood training center, new hire apprentices were out working the lines, learning the trade, while inside, leaders of PGE's efforts to manage its grid through wildfire season explained:
“Our wildfire mitigation plan is really to address to protect people property and their natural environment,” said Kevin Putnam, Sr. Director of Compliance and Utility Operations.
But there is also a lot at stake for the major electric utility. A lot of its transmission lines run right through land at risk of burning. So its equipment and ability to deliver power are in jeopardy in a wildfire.
Add to that the risk of potential responsibility for a fire start, like Pacific Power is facing, in a $1.6 billion class action lawsuit over the devastating Beachie Creek Fire of 2020.
So PGE showed off some of the new gear they are using like a high-tech early fault detection system.
“This system is actually looking for issues before they become an outage for customers,” said Brett Phillips, PGE Mgr. of Wildfire Operation Program Management.
They also showed off ultra-HD cameras that use artificial intelligence to pinpoint smoke and fire sources. There are 26 of these cameras with six more to come in 2023. PGE says it gives them 100% coverage in the areas of greatest wildfire danger, and that it works.
“This detection was able to provide a two-hour head start or would be able to provide a two-hour head start in many cases, for our fire districts to be able to respond to fires,” said Phillips.
Along with it, a long-term replacement plan going from wood to iron power poles, for resilience and wildfire safety, along with other more wildfire safe components.
PGE is spending tens of millions on being prepared. The budget for the 2023 Wildfire Mitigation Plan includes approximately $23.6M in operations and maintenance costs, and an additional $15.1 - $27M in system improvements this year alone.
The electric utility hopes you'll be ready too, with an emergency kit and a safety plan, in case wildfire comes your way.
“And I think that as Oregonians and members of these communities, we should all plan and we should all be prepared,” said Putman.