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Second round of ice and ensuing thaw prompt mass power outages

January 17, 2024 Aaron Orlowski, EWEB Communications

Additional ice Tuesday evening, paired with thawing conditions overnight, snapped tree limbs across Eugene and the McKenzie River Valley, causing mass power outages.

The rapidly shifting weather conditions dealt a setback to repair EWEB crews, who have all been working nonstop 16-hour days since Saturday morning. Before Tuesday, crews had restored power for thousands of customers every day as the ice continued to cause outages, only to see nearly all of their work erased by additional falling trees overnight Tuesday.

On Wednesday, all EWEB crews, who have been working nonstop since Saturday, traversed EWEB’s service territory assessing the damage and restoring transmission lines and main power feeders that would bring power back online for the largest number of customers. As of about 4:30 p.m. today, EWEB had restored power for about 4,500 customers across Eugene, from the Willakenzie neighborhood to the Friendly neighborhood and everywhere in between.

“For some of our customers, power has been knocked out and restored, only to get knocked out again. Meanwhile, other customers have been without power continuously for three days or more. We know how frustrating and hard that can be, and we’re grateful for our customers’ patience as they bear the situation. We are ready to respond to whatever comes our way.” said Tyler Nice, EWEB electric operations manager.

At the peak Wednesday morning, about 24,000 EWEB customers were without power. More outages are possible, with wind gusts forecasted for Wednesday and overnight. Gusts can bring down stressed limbs and trees still weighed down by ice.

“This storm is uphill from here, in terms of effort, restorations and challenges. The support staff and crews are trained for this type of event. Though the situation is difficult, we are gathering the materials, crews and resources to restore the community’s power to normal as soon as we can. We appreciate the community banding with our crews to support the restoration and stay safe through this unprecedented ice storm.” Nice added.

EWEB crews are following the customer-owned utility’s standard protocols to ensure safety and then restore power for the largest number of customers first.

First, crews make safe any situation that poses a threat to customers, such as ensuring downed powerlines are not sparking. Second, crews assess and restore transmission lines that serve large swathes of territory. Third, crews work on restoring power feeders, which may serve hundreds of customers.

In the days ahead, crews will work on repairing taps, which typically serve a cluster of homes. These smaller repairs often take just as much time to repair as larger ones that can restore power to hundreds or thousands of customers.

Five contract crews have joined EWEB staff crews in the field conducting assessments and making repairs. Following last night’s outage surge, EWEB is in the process of procuring more contract crews to speed restoration further.

Upriver in the McKenzie River Valley, thousands of customers remain without power. Since the storm began, EWEB crews have only made sporadic progress upriver, thwarted by weather conditions and damages to equipment. At this time, the McKenzie Valley is entirely without connection to the main power grid since EWEB’s supplier, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), is experiencing outages on upstream transmission lines.

“BPA has brought in crews from four other BPA transmission districts supporting the efforts of its local Eugene crew. Those crews are working overtime to make repairs and restore service as safely and quicky as possible,” said BPA senior spokesperson Doug Johnson.

EWEB is readying the distribution system and those connections so that when power is available, it can be directed through the EWEB system.

In addition, all of EWEB’s transmission lines to the east of I-5 and up the McKenzie Valley are still down. These transmission lines – which carry high-voltage power long distances – need to be repaired before EWEB can deliver power to the distribution network, which brings power to individual neighborhoods. In the meantime, EWEB is preparing for upriver restoration work by procuring poles, transformers, wires and other equipment, and staging it for efficient deployment.

Customers can check EWEB’s outage map for more details:

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