Why Wildfire Mitigation Plans?
In 2020, Cowlitz PUD contracted with BKI Engineering Services to develop a Wildfire Mitigation Plan specific to Cowlitz PUD’s location, landscape and electrical infrastructure. Due to the increase of wildfires nationally and related legislation/regulation, utilities are actively developing wildfire mitigation plans. These comprehensive plans help utilities develop operational policies and practices to help prevent, prepare for and respond to wildfire events. BKI has been helping its utility partners prepare WMPs since 2018.
Wildfire Mitigation Plan
Cowlitz PUD has proactively developed a comprehensive Wildfire Mitigation Plan to help communities and increase the resiliency of the electrical grid. We continue to build upon this program as we learn more about wildfire risk in Cowlitz County, and adapt to changing conditions.
Cowlitz County is at a low risk for wildfires but Cowlitz PUD is prepared to continue to collaborate with local community members and agencies to ensure we are prepared in the case of a wildfire. The tools we use to address wildfire risk are area-specific and backed by detailed fire risk studies and industry best-practices.
Cowlitz PUD’s Wildfire Mitigation Plan Objectives
- Implement an actionable plan to increase reliability and safety while reducing the likelihood of Cowlitz PUD assets becoming the origin or contributing factor for wildfires.
- Maintain a plan that prioritizes safety, situational awareness, mitigation methods, and recovery.
- Develop a plan that aligns with utility best practice competencies and risk mitigation activities.
- Continue to assess and incorporate new industry best practices, technologies, and risk mitigation activities.
Cowlitz PUD’s mitigation strategies consist of design and construction, inspection and maintenance, operational practices, situational and conditional awareness, and response and recovery. This includes such items as:
- Undergrounding lines where feasible and cost-effective
- System hardening by using covered equipment and animal guards
- Avian protection
- Tree-trimming and brush removal
- Equipment patrols
- Increased inspections during fire season
- Work procedures and training for employees
- Service area weather conditions monitoring
- Pre-emptive de-energization of equipment and power lines during extreme risk days
- Coordination with local agencies
- Fire safety outage management
Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS)
A Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) preemptively de-energizes power lines during high wind events combined with hot and dry weather conditions. When considering de-energization, Cowlitz PUD examines the impacts on fire response, water supply, public safety, and emergency communications.
The risks and potential consequences of initiating a PSPS are significant and extremely complex. Based on the above considerations, Cowlitz PUD reserves the option of implementing a PSPS when conditions dictate. While Cowlitz PUD believes the risks of implementing a PSPS far outweigh the chances of its electric overhead distribution system igniting a catastrophic wildfire, the PSPS provides a last resort tool and another mitigation option.
On a case-by-case basis, Cowlitz PUD has historically and will continue to consider de-energizing a portion of its system in response to a known public safety issue or response to a request from an emergency management/response agency. Any de-energizing of the lines is performed in coordination with key local partner agencies, but the final determination is made by Cowlitz PUD.
While it may not be possible in all cases, all attempts will be made by Cowlitz PUD to notify each customer of an impending PSPS with as much advance notice as possible prior to implementation.