Dear KEC members,
On the morning of January 13, 2021, a severe windstorm swept through the Inland Northwest causing extensive damage and widespread power outages. The windstorm was on par with that of November 2015; having sustained winds of approximately 50 mph and gusts of approximately 70 mph. The storm caused widespread damage resulting in outages to more than 670,000 consumers in the Northwest. In response, KEC brought in several contract and mutual aid line crews to assist with the restoration efforts. The majority of KEC members had power restored by the afternoon of January 17, 2021. See box to the right for other damage details.
One of the greatest challenges from this storm was the number of roads and driveways blocked by lines that were down. Our initial restoration effort necessarily focused on eliminating those safety hazards. Additionally, the Avista Utilities transmission lines feeding KEC’s substations, which in turn serve the Athol, Twin Lakes, Rathdrum, Spirit Lake, Worley and Harrison areas, were down for most of the day.
Due to the severity of the storm, Kootenai County declared an emergency, which may allow KEC to initiate a claim under the FEMA Public Assistance Program in the future with state and federal support.
Thank you for your patience during the storm. Your kind words and messages were very heartening to our staff.
We’re proud to power our community when it matters most.
KEC General Manager/CEO
The following are some of the common questions (and answers) we heard from members during the storm.
Why couldn’t you provide restoration estimates?
Generally, KEC includes estimated times of restoration on our outage map (www.kec.com/outage-map), when they are available. During severe storms such as this one, it is very difficult to make accurate estimates, especially when so many trees and poles are broken.
How do you determine where to restore power first?
During a storm, crews work to restore power to the greatest number of members in the shortest time possible. In this case, crews worked to restore power to areas without broken poles first as it can take up to 10 hours to repair a broken pole.
Why doesn’t KEC put all the power lines underground?
Currently more than half of our power lines have been built underground. Almost all new construction is also built underground. Underground lines can be three times the cost of overhead lines. After the wind and snowstorms of 2015 KEC was awarded more than $10 million in special grant funding from FEMA to convert approximately 50 miles of our most problematic overhead lines to underground.
KEC is currently working to apply for additional FEMA funding to convert more lines to underground.
What is KEC doing to keep trees from falling on lines?
To minimize the risk of trees contacting our overhead lines, KEC has an aggressive vegetation management plan. We trim rights-of-way to provide for the minimum clearance distance of 30 feet, or 15 feet either side of the power line. We also ask members to call and report any trees they see close to our primary lines or dead trees that may fall on our lines. KEC will remove trees threatening our lines at no cost to landowners. KEC does not trim service lines (the line from KEC’s transformer to your house). That is the homeowner’s responsibility. We will come out at no charge and drop the service line so the member can trim service line trees safely.
Should I help your crews by cutting trees that have fallen on power lines?
If a tree has fallen into power lines on your property, please stay away and contact us as soon as possible. Downed power lines are dangerous. Never touch them. For safety’s sake, always assume that a fallen power line is live, and follow these guidelines:
- Avoid touching the downed line with your hand or an object, such as a stick, broom or pole.
- Avoid touching anything, such as a car, object or equipment, or anyone who is in contact with a fallen power line.
- Avoid driving over a fallen power line.
- Trees and water conduct electricity. Do not spray water at a live power line. You can become electricity’s path to the ground if you are touching water that touches electricity resulting in injury or death.
Where can I get updates during outages?
We encourage members to sign up for outage alerts by text or email using your SmartHub account. Remember to keep your contact information (phone and email) updated with us so we can notify you in the event of planned power outages. During large outages, updates are also available at: www.facebook.com/KootenaiElectric.