Pacific Northwest storm recovery continues


Puget Sound Energy has a service status page where they update how things are going in the power restoration process. The repair crews (some from as far away as Kansas) are working 40-hour shifts with eight hours' rest between shifts. (That article is from a snowstorm a few weeks ago. A manager is quoted as saying. "I've been in this industry 30 years, and I haven't seen anything like this." Well, now he gets to see it twice in one year, and it's not even winter yet!)

Electricity was restored to my house after only 36 hours. All of a sudden I was popular! (If you can't be popular for who you are, at least be popular for what you have.)

I know people who have been told that "the lines through the mountain between the main station and the substation are heavily damaged. ... Right now with the current information, Thursday night or Friday morning are the best-case scenarios" for having power restored to their neighborhood. But that explanation makes me wonder. First, how do you repair lines that run through a mountain? And second, how do you damage lines that run through a mountain? (Now, it's entirely likely that by "through" the mountain, they really meant "over the mountain", but it's funnier to think that the lines actually run through the mountain.)

Comments (16)
  1. Peter Ritchie says:

    It astounds me that we still use over-head cabling.  Up in my region during the Ice Storm of 1998, all power outages were due to fallen lines.  Most of the time the lines just couldn’t handle the stress and broke; but some metal structures actually buckled from the weight of the ice.  It has to be cheaper to bury lines then have to repair an overhead line just once.

    My neighbourhood at the time was really new, so most of the local power lines were subterranean, so, like you, I was pretty popular having power restored relatively quickly.

  2. frankchn says:

    The entire grid in the sunny island of Singapore is underground, from the power station right to apartment buildings. I don’t know why, because we don’t have any hurricanes/typhoons/snowstorms of any sort

  3. James Schend says:

    Your "through the mountain" comment reminds me of a passage from the Hitchhiker’s Guide:

    "The difference between something that can go wrong and something that can’t go wrong is that, when the thing that can’t go wrong goes wrong, it’s usually impossible to get at or fix."

    (From memory.)

  4. Chet says:

    Underground lines are very expensive to repair.  Corrosion and leakage can cause problems that are hard to locate.  It is easier to see a break in a line above ground as well.

    In places with a possibility of flooding, underground lines become a real issue.

  5. Larry Osterman says:

    I’m glad you have power :)

    We do, but only because we’re currently in New York City – we left yesterday morning.

    I checked – our house still doesn’t have power – 4+ days and counting.

  6. Gabe says:

    Sure, overhead power lines are vulnerable to ice, wind, trees, and trucks hitting the poles. Unfortunately buried lines are vulnerable to flooding, backhoes, rodents, and will still go dark whenever one of the above-ground links in the chain is affected by weather.

    Although buried cables are less likely to result in an outage, the outage is likely to take much longer to fix because the cables are so hard to get to (and it’s much harder to find the fault in the first place).

    When you consider that it costs 10 times as much to bury a cable as it does to string one up on a pole, and the buried ones last only half as long, it’s no surprise that people are still stringing up wires on poles.

    Under most conditions it makes sense not to bury cables. Singapore buries their cables for the aesthetic value.

    See http://www.eei.org/industry_issues/energy_infrastructure/distribution/underground.htm for some background information on this.

  7. MSDN Archive says:

    "All of a sudden I was popular!"

    There are currently 10 people staying at my house.  Not all of them are there because of power outages, but it sure is cosy.

  8. David Walker says:

    The link that Gabe shows has some interesting papers.  

    Things that seem intuitively true, like putting electrical distribution wires underground will improve reliability to customers, isn’t necessarily true, and can be incredibly expensive.  Interesting.

  9. Language says:

    You drive through the mountains but hike in the mountains.  Fun

  10. JenK says:

    I am feeling nostalgia for a certain old apartment located a mere quarter-mile from the Eastside Group Health Hospital.

    Power outtage? What’s a power outtage?

    (We lost power at 10pm Thursday.  No, it isn’t working yet.)  

    Have you noticed that "Do you have power?" is becoming the new Eastside greeting?

  11. Stephen Jones says:

    I rarely go a fortnight without a power outage in Lanka. Coconut trees falling on the line.

  12. Jeremy Morton says:

    This was a benefit of moving to the South part of Auburn, I guess. We only got a couple of power flickers. Our friend’s family is staying with us until their Redmond house comes back online. It’s definitely cozy, but I’m sure it beats paying for a hotel room. [And keeping two kids in a single hotel room for several days has to be a special kind of hell.]

  13. Thomas says:

    Have a look at http://jwz.livejournal.com/94645.html for a tale of what happens when a major (read 230kV and a few kA) underground cable fails. Those things are not cheap to repair.

  14. Cooney says:

    Gabe:

    Unfortunately buried lines are vulnerable to flooding, backhoes, rodents, and will still go dark whenever one of the above-ground links in the chain is affected by weather.

    Easy solution to the backhoe problem – bury a decoy strand of fiber several meters away from the powerline.

  15. Luis says:

    > Unfortunately buried lines are vulnerable to flooding, backhoes, rodents, and will still go dark whenever one of the above-ground links in the chain is affected by weather.

    Easy solution to the backhoe problem – bury a decoy strand of fiber several meters away from the powerline.

    Sorry, I cannot see how it will solve the backhoe  problem. People in the utility business really hate underground lines, and yes, IANEEBWIAUC :-) (I am not an electrical engeneer but I work in an utility company). The big advantage of underground lines is aesthetic/regulatory 95% of the times.

  16. Cooney says:

    Backhoes preferrentially eat fiber over buried power lines, so it’s a simple matter to trap them when they munch the decoy fiber strand. Yuo can then prevent them from going after the power lines.

    Simple, really.

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