Avista has launched an extensive 10-year plan to systematically strengthen our electric grid infrastructure along the wildland urban interface (WUI) areas across Idaho and Washington. Wildfire safety and prevention is one of Avista’s most important objectives as a business and as an active member of the local communities we serve.
The effort is part of Avista’s comprehensive Wildfire Resiliency Plan that includes enhanced defense strategies and operating practices for a safer and more resilient system. While we have always maintained robust asset maintenance and inspection processes, through the implementation of our plan, we’re hardening the system to help safeguard against potential future fires.
The frequency, size and impact of wildfires in Idaho and Washington has grown exponentially over the past several decades. The threat of wildfire poses a real risk to Avista, our customers and communities. In fact, 40% of Avista’s electric distribution system and 20% of our transmission system is located in elevated fire threat areas.
It is this portion of the electric system that is the focus of Avista’s new ‘Grid Hardening’ initiative, essentially making our system more resistant to threats so it can sustain more severe weather. Over the next ten years, more than 3,100 miles of structures and targeted equipment in high risk areas will be replaced and/or strengthened with fire-resilient materials such as steel vs. wood poles, installing a special fire-retardant wire mesh around the bottom of wood poles to mitigate the impact of wildfires and replacing wooden cross arms on poles with stronger fiberglass arms to reduce the threat of wildfire events. Older conductor will be replaced. And, wildlife guards will be installed to reduce wildfire contacts.
In 2021, the Grid Hardening initiative is focused on improving the reliability and safety on 17 feeders impacting over 200 miles of distribution line. Construction is underway and will continue through December along the wildland urban interface (WUI) areas. These areas include: in Idaho - Cataldo, Kamiah, Kooskia, Priest River and Rathdrum; in Washington – Colville, Rockford and areas of Spokane County. In 2022, the initiative aims to address an additional 320 miles.
In addition to Grid Hardening, Avista’s Wildfire Resiliency Plan also focuses on these key areas:
- Vegetation Management – increased oversight of fire-prone areas to reduce contact between vegetation and power lines. More frequent inspections will include the use of aerial surveys.
- Situational Awareness – improved operational decisions by leveraging current and enhanced systems to better monitor and control the grid. Dashboard technology has been developed to enhance fire-risk assessment through weather forecasting.
- Operations and Emergency Response – decreased potential for wildfires during severe conditions by physically patrolling outage areas prior to re-energizing distribution lines to mitigate the risk of sparks. This includes a move to ‘Dry Land Operating Mode’ in specific areas during fire season, where distribution lines do not automatically reclose after a line fault. Avista will deploy ‘Next Gen Dry Land’ in elevated fire risk areas.
- Worker and Public Safety – enhanced partnerships with emergency first responders. Avista’s 550 electric-line workers will receive training in working with fire responders.
The Wildfire Resiliency Plan builds on prevention and response strategies that have been in place for many years. Over the past year, Avista took a comprehensive look at what was already in place, how tactics could be expanded or improved, and what new elements should be incorporated. The Wildfire Resiliency Plan is a summary of that work, which included a series of internal workshops, industry research, and engagement with state and local fire agencies. The plan formalizes our intent to strengthen our system and sets a clear path to respond to the risk of wildfire for the next 10 years. As the risk increases, Avista is committed to deploying effective mitigative measures with the goal to prevent and mitigate the impacts of wildfire to ensure safety and reliability within the communities we serve.