Are Westgate residents more in the dark?

High winds and falling trees and branches can do considerable damage to power distribution equipment. In severe cases such as broken power poles and cross arms, repairs can take many hours. (Photo courtesy Snohomish County PUD)

By Larry Vogel

Do you live in the Westgate neighborhood? Do you feel your power goes out more often than it should?

If so, you’re not alone. Several Westgate-area citizens have questioned the reliability of electric power in their neighborhood, and feel they experience longer and more frequent power outages than residents of other areas.

And according to Snohomish County PUD’s Neil Neroutsos, they’re right.

“Last year the average customer on this circuit was without power for 890 minutes, more than ten times the 2011 overall system outage figure of 83.3 minutes,” he said. “In 2011 customers served by this circuit had the highest average outage time of any PUD customer group.”

Hardly a contest you want to win.

The Westgate substation at 9620 Edmonds Way is the starting point for a number of feeder circuits that carry electricity to various local neighborhoods. Substations receive power from high-voltage transmission lines, step the voltage down and send it out on feeder circuits, the lines that run along our streets and alleyways. Circuit 405 originates in the Westgate substation.

The circuit in question, PUD circuit 405, serves much of Westgate and parts of Woodway. It originates in the Westgate Substation at 9620 Edmonds Way. From there it runs along Edmonds Way, across 100th Avenue, and continues west toward the ferry. Following the south side of Edmonds Way as it curves north, it serves a bigger area to the south and west, extending all the way to Puget Sound near Point Edwards. Much of this area is heavily treed, and trees interfering with power lines account for a large share of the power outages on this circuit.

Neroutsos was quick to point out that 2011 was a particularly bad year for circuit 405.

“Three protracted outages occurred in 2011 that skewed this number way up,” he said. “A fifteen-hour equipment outage in March, a ten-hour tree outage in September, and a 9.5 hour tree outage in December account for 72% of the 2011 annual outage time for customers served by this circuit.”

Looking at the five-year window, a somewhat different story emerges. The five-year average annual customer outage time for circuit 405 is 140 minutes, still above the average system-wide number but considerably less than the 2011 figure. For the most recent five-year period, the worst circuits in the PUD system were Wallace Falls (678 minutes per year), Granite Falls (563 minutes per year) and North Camano (484 minutes per year).

Each year the PUD analyzes outage data from its various circuits to help plan improvements, line clearance and upgrade work for the coming year. Most recently, the high 2011 outage figures for Westgate resulted in fast-tracking scheduled line clearance work on circuit 405. Originally planned for 2015, this work will be done in the first quarter of 2013.

The City of Edmonds and the Town of Woodway will be cooperating with the PUD in this effort. Both jurisdictions have codes on the books regulating tree removal and vegetation management, but neither will hamper the PUD’s efforts to improve reliability on circuit 405.

A Snohomish County PUD worker clears branches that fell into power lines during a recent windstorm. Trees and branches in power lines account for the majority of power outages to Westgate-area customers served by circuit 405. (Photo courtesy Snohomish County PUD)

The Town of Woodway regulates tree removal, but not tree trimming. “The PUD is free to come into Woodway and trim any trees that are obstructing or a danger to power lines,” said Terrance Bryant, Woodway Public Works Director. “We’ll of course want to know where they are and when so we can assist with traffic control etc., but we don’t want to restrict in any way their efforts to provide reliable power to our residents.”

“If a tree needs to be removed, a permit is required,” he said, “but the process is simple and the permit is free.” In addition Chapter 16.12 of the Woodway Municipal Code, which covers tree preservation, specifically provides for emergency removal of hazard trees without a permit, as long as a permit is obtained within seven days of removing the tree.

Edmonds also allows trimming to maintain power supply reliability, and while tree removal permits are required, the Edmonds Land Clearing and Tree Cutting Code, section 18.45.030 specifically exempts the utility from this requirement in situations involving “interruption of services provided by the utility.”

Phil Williams, Edmonds Public Works Director, stressed that the City of Edmonds places considerable importance on working with the PUD to ensure reliable power for its citizens.

“We make every effort to cooperate and maintain effective communication with the PUD in maintaining Edmonds electric power infrastructure,” said Williams. “Our role is to work with the PUD to manage necessary street closures, traffic diversions, etc. and thereby maximize the effectiveness of their vegetation management work.”

So take heart, Westgate!  The PUD, the City of Edmonds, and the Town of Woodway are aware of the problem and are committed to working together in the coming weeks to enhance your electric service reliability.


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