WALLA WALLA — Energy officials could intentionally shut off power in some areas of the Pacific Northwest this summer to mitigate wildfire risks, regulators said, though it would likely be a rare event.
Bonneville Power Administration officials said in a release Wednesday, June 2, they’ve “added a public safety power shutoff procedure” as part of a wildfire mitigation plan “to protect public safety, life and property.”
“This procedure is (a) preventative measure,” BPA Administrator John Hairston said in the release. “BPA is committed to taking appropriate actions to prevent, mitigate and quickly recover from the devastation wildfires bring to the people and communities we serve.”
Officials said a shutoff should be rare and requires the evaluation of several conditions, including weather and the status of the electrical system, to determine a high risk of wildfire ignition. BPA officials said they would require very dry conditions, wind gusts above 60 mph and relative humidity below 20% before a shutoff is enacted.
“Taking a line out of service ... is a measure of last resort,” said Michelle Cathcart, BPA vice president of Transmission Operations, in the release.
BPA officials said taking a line out of service does not necessarily mean residents and businesses will lose power, although warnings may came in “compressed” times because of how quickly wildfire conditions can change.
BPA administers and regulates electrical power generated by hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest among other federal energy facilities. The energy is purchased by utility companies in the Northwest, such as Milton-Freewater’s City Light & Power.
Rolling blackouts have been used in places such as California to help prevent wildfires.
Experts are predicting a bad wildfire season for much of the West as extreme drought conditions have not let up.