Yampa Valley Electric Association aids in wildfire mitigation | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa Valley Electric Association aids in wildfire mitigation

Yampa Valley Electric Association employees conduct aerial surveys of power line rights-of-way in North Routt County riding with Zephyr Helicopter Co. of Steamboat Springs. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Grogg/YVEA)

Yampa Valley Electric Association helped protect firefighters at the Muddy Slide Fire last month by applying fire protection mode safety technology, also called one-shot.

With the wildfire moving toward co-op infrastructure during the early days of the fire, YVEA officials decided to move sections of the Lynx Pass feeder to fire protection mode in an effort to keep the electric system operating at a safer level and help firefighters work without the worry of electrical wires.

A YVEA Facebook post on June 22 explained, “Out of an abundance of caution and after discussions with the agencies involved with the wildfire, we are moving our Lynx Pass feeder that serves Stagecoach and Lynx Pass to a one-shot system. This means our system will only get one shot to clear the line and restore power before de-energizing. We are typically on a three-shot system, and we are moving to one-shot to create a safer situation for all of those involved in fighting this wildfire. This means that we may see an increase in outages along these service lines and will work to manage this situation as best as we can.”

When the electric power lines operate on the normal three-shot system, if objects, such as tree limbs, vegetation or animals create a disturbance to the power line, the system will re-energize and try to clear the line three times before the line will de-energize until a repair is made. However, when one-shot mode is employed, co-op customers may experience more frequent and longer duration outages.

“During these low-moisture, high-drought summers, we go from a three-shot system down to a one-shot system as needed,” said Carly Davison, YVEA public relations specialist. “The unfortunate side effect of this is that we may experience more outages than normal during the summer, but to us, the prevention of wildfires is paramount and takes precedence.”

Davison said fire protection mode has been used by YVEA in years past and is used by many utilities across the country to assist in wildfire prevention. When the Muddy Slide Fire was no longer an immediate threat to power line infrastructure, the system was removed in phases from one-shot mode.

Davison said power was turned off to 19 meters within the mandatory evacuation zone along Routt County Road 16 from June 23-28 to protect firefighters. YVEA members can keep abreast of the situation at the yvea.com/outage-center. Members can also sign up to receive short text messages through the YVEA SmartHub app.

YVEA teams stay involved in other annual fire protection and mitigation efforts to clear power line rights-of-way, and the co-op received financial assistance through Bureau of Land Management grants. The co-op also recently applied for wildfire mitigation matching grant funding from the Colorado State Forest Service.

“The grants have allowed us to increase the scope of our wildfire mitigation this year,” Davidson said.

This year, fire mitigation work was performed near YVEA power lines on Emerald Mountain and along Soul Center Way in Steamboat Springs as well as areas in Craig. Last summer, YVEA subcontractors completed multiple rights-of-way clearing projects in a variety of areas ranging from North to South Routt County.

Fire mitigation was completed under this Yampa Valley Electric Association transmission line near Clark. (Photo courtesy of Benjamin Hoffner/YVEA)

On the wildfire mitigation plan section on the YVEA website, officials note “this plan will expand upon our existing maintenance and safety programs to significantly reduce fire ignitions caused by our infrastructure, while strengthening the overall electric system.”

YVEA officials have identified areas within the service territory that are rated by the Colorado State Forest Service as extreme or elevated fire threat areas.

“In these areas, we are conducting enhanced safety inspections of electric infrastructure with the use of aerial patrols and will begin clearing additional vegetation around equipment and structures,” YVEA officials note.

The member-owned electric co-op employs Zephyr Helicopter Co. in Steamboat Springs to fly YVEA staff to survey 3,006 miles of power lines. The aerial surveys help staff check on the more remote areas of power lines to make sure lines are clear of vegetation issues.

Knowing if the power line rights-of-way are clear is important in the rare case that other safety measures do not work and a power line might blow a fuse and possibly send molten material to the ground below, according to a YVEA article in the July issue of Colorado Country Living magazine.

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