- Chugach Electric Association announced Tuesday that it is beefing up its vegetation management efforts and making some operational changes in response to wildfires that are burning to the north and south of the Alaskan utility.
- The cooperative serves more than 84,000 meters from Anchorage to Alaska's northern Kenai Peninsula. Anchorage is currently experiencing a late-season drought that the National Integrated Drought Information System has classified "extreme" — a first for the city.
- Chugach has changed its procedures for re-energizing power lines after a fault, and during the current conditions will require physical inspections rather than automatically bringing them back online.
The increased wildfire risk is a familiar issue to the utility sector, as is Chugach's approach: California utility Pacific Gas & Electric takes similar steps, disabling automatic reclosers during fire season to reduce risks.
Chugach warned customers that physically inspecting power lines before bringing them back online could lead to longer outages, but said the move was necessary to "mitigate potential wildfire hazards.
"With fires burning to the north and south of us, we believe taking proactive steps to mitigate any fire danger is the right thing to do," Chugach CEO Lee Thibert said in a statement. "Having our crews physically patrol an area before a line is re-energized is prudent action to take in these conditions."
The new restoration procedures will effect Chugach operations in the Anchorage Bowl, Tyonek, and Northern Kenai Peninsula.
Alaska is prone to droughts but they are not usually this extreme. According to te U.S. Drought Monitor, Alaska's longest drought since 2000 was a period of 63 weeks that ended in March 2014. However, "the most intense period of drought occurred the week of August 20, 2019 where D3 affected 1.32% of Alaska land."
The drought monitor identifies four classes of drought: moderate (D1), severe (D2), extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4).
Chugach also says it is working with its tree clearing contractor to "increase efforts on the Anchorage Hillside to clear dead and dangerous trees from the right-of-way. Crews will be looking for potential problem areas and clearing trees under or near power lines."