Staff at Washington State’s Chelan PUD recently recommended that the PUD adopt a five-year reliability goal.
The action took place at a PUD board meeting, where PUD commissioners discussed electric reliability.
“Our goal is to create a reliability metric that is achievable, and it should balance cost, risk and performance,” said PUD Distribution Asset Manager Chad Rissman.
Outages vary in frequency and duration across the 50,729 customers Chelan PUD serves. The most common causes are vegetation, animals, weather and equipment repair.
An analysis of a dozen West Coast utilities of similar size, with forested terrain and wildfire risk, showed a range 65 to 345 minutes of outage time per customer, according to the PUD.
Chelan PUD is on track to end the year at 89 outage minutes.
“We’re at 89 minutes right now, and we want to get back down to the 70-minute range by making investments and improvements,” Rissman said.
When asked about satisfaction related to electrical reliability, 96-98% of Chelan PUD customers said they were “satisfied” to “very satisfied” during years when Chelan PUD averaged 74 to 77 outage minutes per customer.
“By setting a five-year goal between 44 to 67 minutes, it’s not only an improvement over customer expectations, but it is also within the top quartile for comparable utilities,” Rissman said.
Another challenge to reliability is mitigating wildfire risk. Since 2021, Chelan PUD has operated the electrical grid with a higher level of sensitivity during fire season in fire-prone areas, which lowered the risk of electrical equipment starting a fire, but increased the number of outages, it noted.
Chelan PUD is planning to invest in three strategies to improve reliability: cable replacement, tree-trimming, and using new technology to reduce the impact of wildfire mitigation settings.
With those investments, PUD staff recommended a goal to reduce outage time over the next five years to an average of 42 to 67 minutes a year.
“We do think customer expectations are going to increase over time because of all the things they rely on,” General Manager Kirk Hudson said. “We’re trying to arrive at a goal that allows continuous improvement. We want to stay a step ahead of customer expectations.”
Commissioners have not yet voted on the five-year reliability goal, noted Rachel Hansen, Senior Communications Strategist at Chelan County PUD. This was a staff recommendation, she said.