Illustration of snow

Crews restore power to rural California counties

With record snowfalls pounding communities across northern California, WAPA’s Sierra Nevada crews continue to battle Mother Nature’s challenges to the area’s energy grid.

In rural Trinity County, WAPA crews responded to three mutual aid requests going into late February. These support calls assisted hard-hit public utility districts with damage to their transmission lines caused by the mounting snowfalls. According to the University of California, Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab, more than 55 feet of snow had fallen on northern California. This puts the 2022-2023 winter season on track to become the region’s seventh largest ever recorded. And more snow is expected through May.

On Feb. 28, SN’s North Area Field Maintenance Manager Neil Cutright received a call from the Trinity Public Utilities District, which services the 2,200-square-mile Trinity County. Trinity PUD asked for immediate assistance to help restore power to 7,300 customers. With two feet of snow already on the ground, and more falling, the county’s Weaverville Substation had tripped, cutting power to 94 percent of its customers. Together with several power poles broken from the storm, Trinity PUD needed backup, and WAPA was ready to assist.

“We have a pretty good relationship with Trinity PUD,” Cutright said. “They utilize us a lot when they have a problem. This county only has a small team of about six to seven linemen. Whenever they get storms that impact them a lot, they call us. We have an agreement for mutual aid where we’re able to support at a moment’s notice.”

The solution seemed simple – WAPA’s 60-kilovolt feed from Trinity to Weaverville was still in service. This allowed crews to connect WAPA’s line to Trinity PUD’s, instantly electrifying the vast majority of the county. But the snow drifts caused a second issue. By Trinity PUD’s count, three poles had snapped, requiring immediate attention to ensure the integrity of the electrical grid.

“Our line crew was asked to replace the broken poles due to the heavy snow,” Cutright said. “I had five of our linemen respond.”

Most WAPA line crews live in nearby Shasta County, requiring a convoy of line trucks, utility vehicles and snowcats to make the hour drive west into Trinity. With cold weather gear ready, WAPA joined their Trinity PUD counterparts, combining crews to get the new poles up faster.

“A lot of times it takes a bit to get into the areas where the problem is. Sometimes we have to plow snow or even grade new roads to get into the areas,” Cutright said. “It can take work just to get to sites, let alone fixing problems with transmission lines.”

Wading through the thick snow, the crews replaced the poles and ensured both conductors and crossarms were properly installed. The work required a second day trip, with crews returning to finish the job. In this case, they had completed the work quickly; in other instances, mutual assistance calls can see crews in the field for up to a week.

Trinity PUD General Manager Paul Hauser praised WAPA linemen for their quick assistance getting the power back to Weaverville and Trinity County.

“Our relationship with WAPA is absolutely critical,” said Hauser. “They are a regular and counted-on part of our emergency response plan. We get regular winter storms, and WAPA is familiar with our systems, and they know what it takes to keep the power going up here.”

Hauser said this year’s snow was above average in terms of precipitation but was also challenging due to the bitter temperatures. Despite several years of drought with abnormally low amounts of precipitation, Trinity’s relationship with WAPA has always been excellent.

“Our relationship is so critical we could not operate the way we do now without WAPA. I couldn’t imagine what our operations would be like without them,” he said.

Cutright said he was proud of the selfless work his crews do to ensure surrounding communities keep their lights on.

“These craftsmen are the backbone of WAPA,” Cutright said. “They’re the ones that go out in the middle of night during extreme cold or heat, or the worst weather you can imagine, and work day and night to do whatever needs to be done.”

Note: The author is a public affairs specialist.

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Last modified on March 27th, 2024