By Ann McCreary
About 200 people were working early this week to restore power to Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) customers who have been without power since wildfires swept through the valley and surrounding areas almost two weeks ago.
As of Tuesday (July 29), 733 customers were still without power, as the PUD worked to repair distribution lines in the southern part of the valley, said Dan Boettger, director of regulations and environmental affairs.
The PUD transmission line, which brings power over the Loup Loup Pass to the valley, was damaged July 17 by a fast-moving wildfire that started near Pearrygin Lake. The outage left 3,600 PUD customers and 3,500 Okanogan County Electric Cooperative (OCEC) members without power.
PUD crews were able to get the transmission line back in service on July 25, seven days later. The transmission line between Brewster and Pateros was also restored at that time. A third transmission line, from Ophir to Brewster, has not been repaired.
With the transmission line over Loup Loup back online, OCEC was able to restore power to almost all of its customers in the upper Methow Valley including Mazama, Winthrop, and some areas around Twisp.
Extensive damage to the distribution system in many parts of the lower valley, coupled with difficult terrain in some areas, means that some PUD customers may be without power for weeks longer.
PUD crews from Douglas, Grant and Benton counties, as well as the Bonneville Power Administration and private contractors, are assisting the Okanogan County PUD, Boettger said.
By Tuesday, crews were able to get the main distribution line energized to serve the town of Methow and residents about two miles upriver, Boettger said.
After the firestorm ravaged the lower part of the valley, burned power poles and tangled distribution lines were scattered about like “a big bunch of spaghetti,” Boettger said. Repairs are being done as quickly as possible, although some remote areas are rugged and more difficult to reach, he said.
The cost of repairing the PUD system will likely be at least $10 million, Boettger said. The cost to OCEC to restore power was about $400,000, said manager David Gottula.
“Just the utility costs [of the wildfire] are staggering,” Boettger said.