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Crews Quickly Tackle Windstorm-Caused Outages

January 03, 2022

A large tree fell across the street during a windstorm

Starting late night Sunday night, an intense windstorm blew over trees and caused just over 2,600 Eugene Water & Electric Board customers to lose power.

But EWEB line crews working through the dark hours of the night and early morning promptly restored service for nearly all those customers. By 9 a.m. Monday, only about a dozen customers remained without power. All were restored by noon.

“Our electric system is reliable, but sometimes weather conditions cause outages that we can’t prevent. What we can control is how quickly we get the power back on, so long as access to the damage areas and the safety of crews allows,” said Tyler Nice, EWEB’s electric operations manager.

“We know how much our customers rely on power for their homes and businesses, which is why our crews are always ready to fix the issue, no matter the time of day or night, or the conditions,” he said.

Sunday’s windstorm arrived on the heels of the snowstorm that started in the evening of Dec. 26 and lasted for a couple days. Several inches of snow fell, cracking trees and knocking out power for more than 850 customers. But fast action by our crews working through the snowy, icy conditions ensured that the power was restored for nearly all customers by the evening of Dec. 28.

“Mother Nature’s holiday gift to EWEB’s line crews included some long hours getting the power back on for our customers, but at least we had a respite between these two storms,” said John Latourette, EWEB's line supervisor.

Trimming trees to reduce outage risk 

In addition to responding quickly to service disruptions, EWEB reduces the risk of outages by trimming vegetation near electric lines along an average of 300 miles each year. Trees are a valued part of the urban landscape, but they are a major cause of power outages in the Eugene area. This proactive vegetation management significantly reduces the number and severity of weather-caused outages.

Since 2007, we have earned the National Arbor Day Foundation's Tree Line USA award each year in recognition of our efforts to protect and enhance Eugene's urban forests while delivering reliable energy service.

In the McKenzie River Valley, where rural customers rely on electricity to both heat their homes and power their drinking water wells, trees can be especially problematic, taking down power lines and making roads impassable for repair crews.

This fall, EWEB used a helicopter with massive saw attachments to trim trees along the Carmen-Smith transmission line, which connects EWEB to the Bonneville Power Administration’s transmission system and brings electricity from the EWEB-owned Carmen-Smith hydropower project to the Eugene area. That trimming reduced the risk of failure along the Carmen-Smith line during recent storms.

But not all trees that cause outages are controlled by EWEB. Many stand outside of EWEB’s right-of-way, so our crews can’t trim or remove them. The utility relies on individuals or other agencies to manage vegetation on private property for electrical safety and reliability.  

Underground lines only part of the solution 

While falling trees can bring down above-ground power lines, underground power lines face their own issues. When underground lines fail, it often takes crews longer to fix the issue and restore service. 

After the 2016 ice storm, EWEB applied for and received grant funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for resiliency projects that included converting some overhead lines to underground lines, including along Blanton Road and on East 50th Avenue between Willamette and Fox Hollow.

Other lines across the EWEB’s service area were reconfigured so that power lines requiring two wires were converted to a higher capacity cable requiring just one wire. This change eliminates the need for cross arms, which are vulnerable to falling trees and are a common culprit in outages.

FEMA provided 75% of the funding, or about $3 million, and EWEB covered the rest.

Staying prepared for emergencies 

Emergency outages can occur at any time due to extreme weather, an unpredictable earthquake or other causes. It’s important to always be prepared.

Community members interested in learning more about how to prepare for potential disasters can sign up for our Pledge to Prepare program, which is a 12-month blueprint to prepare participants and their households to be ready for a two-week emergency.

Each month, participants will receive an email with a small list of supplies to gather and tasks to complete, so that by year’s end they are ready to live without public services for two weeks, which is the minimum amount of time recommended by the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. Sign up here.