Electric utilities spending millions to lower wildfire risk
SEATTLE (AP) — Private electric utilities in the Pacific Northwest are planning tens of millions of dollars in upgrades to reduce the risk that their power lines could spark wildfires during extreme weather.
Utilities such as Pacific Power, Avista, Idaho Power, Portland General Electric and Puget Sound Energy are either required to or are voluntarily submitting wildfire mitigation plans. The 2022 editions are now public, the Northwest News Network reported.
These reports show major spending increases to harden infrastructure, remove trees near power lines and install systems to instantaneously de-energize circuits if a fault is detected during a windstorm. Pacific Power, for example, said it forecasts $473 million in wildfire protection spending over the next five years. PGE, with a much smaller service territory, budgeted $32 million in wildfire program operations and capital costs just for this year.
Utilities will eventually seek to recover those costs through customers’ monthly bills. Proposed electric rate increases pending before the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission already include some wildfire mitigation costs.
“We define a risk tree as anything dead, dying or diseased that can strike a power line,” David James, wildfire resiliency manager for Spokane-based Avista Utilities, told an oversight hearing of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission on Wednesday. “Year-to-date, we’ve removed over 4,000 trees – 4,416 trees. That is just incredible.”