Power to the people – it’s not an easy task | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Power to the people – it’s not an easy task

Sally J. Taylor

Keeping power pulsing into homes and businesses during a Tahoe winter requires everyone working together, according to officials of Sierra Pacific Power Company.

In a media open house on Wednesday, Sierra Pacific Power representatives described to representatives from KOWL and KTHO radio stations as well as the Tahoe Daily Tribune the intricate network of power lines on South Shore and the role they and the public play to restore power to its 26,000 customers following an outage.

“Information from customers is extremely valuable,” said Rick Madrid, Sierra’s customer account representative and South Tahoe public information officer.

With much of the company’s 17,000 miles of distribution and transmission lines in the rugged terrain of Northern Nevada and Northeastern California all the lines are patrolled by helicopter twice a year, said Gary Evans, manager of South Lake Tahoe district operations.

To improve the company’s ability to supply power when problems inevitably occur, Sierra Pacific is improving the network between its three main power stations in Round Hill, Stateline and Meyers so power can be more easily rerouted. The power to all three stations originates at the Buckeye Substation near Minden which receives most of its power from a coal-fired generator at Fort Churchill. Other stations use natural gas to generate power. A recently constructed line brings hydroelectric power from the northwest and other power sources are always being explored.

In a pinch, Sierra can also buy power from PG&E through lines over Echo Summit and even under Emerald Bay.

Rerouting power can restore electricity to some extent but the lines must also be fixed. Information from the public can help pinpoint the source of a problem.

“We know there’s a problem before the calls start, but phone calls give us more information to find out where the problem is,” Evans said.

From customers who describe seeing a flash of light, Sierra Pacific learns the general area of a problem and something about the source. Those who hear a loud bang, like a gunshot, are even more helpful because that sound is not heard over as wide an area.

Addresses of customers without power also help pinpoint problems. Radio stations can help gather information about the extent of a problem for Sierra Pacific as well as providing information to customers about the extent of an outage and how long it could last.

Even during normal conditions, supplying power is a delicate juggling act. System controllers in Reno open and close switches to keep the balance. They buy power from other sources when needed and sell it when there is a surplus and direct it through lines that can handle the load.

When problems occur, they can prevent major outages by disconnecting the network to a problem area.

The controllers also have Doppler radar that shows every lightening strike in the western United States and can indicate where a storm is headed.

A lightning strike in Yerington can cause an electrical flicker here, Evans said.

“Our principle thing is just to keep the lights on and do a good job for our customers,” he said.

of a problem.

“We know there’s a problem before the calls start, but phone calls give us more information to find out where the problem is,” Evans said.

From customers who describe seeing a flash of light, Sierra Pacific learns the general area of a problem and something about the source. Those who hear a loud bang, like a gunshot, are even more helpful because that sound is not heard over as wide an area.

Addresses of customers without power also help pinpoint problems. Radio stations can help gather information about the extent of a problem for Sierra Pacific as well as providing information to customers about the extent of an outage and how long it could last.

Even during normal conditions, supplying power is a delicate juggling act. System controllers in Reno open and close switches to keep the balance. They buy power from other sources when needed and sell it when there is a surplus and direct it through lines that can handle the load.

When problems occur, they can prevent major outages by disconnecting the network to a problem area.

The controllers also have Doppler radar that shows every lightening strike in the western United States and can indicate where a storm is headed.

A lightning strike in Yerington can cause an electrical flicker here, Evans said. “Our principle thing is just to keep the lights on and do a good job for our customers.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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