UPDATED: Snagged Line at Construction Site Kills Power to County


A widespread power outage affected Lewis County on Friday for the second time in less than one month.

The Chronicle received reports of a loss of power from Centralia to Winlock beginning at approximately 9:50 a.m. Power was restored to downtown Centralia about two hours later.

According to a statement from the Bonneville Power Administration, a high-lift machine typically used by construction companies made contact with its 69-kilovolt transmission line, causing an interruption at the 69kv power bank inside the Chehalis Substation.

M.L. Norton, general manager of Centralia City Light, said he had seen photos showing a lift truck coming into contact with a power line near the $100 million grocery distribution warehouse under construction at the Port of Centralia.

BPA spokesman Kevin Wingert said that external contact with a transmission line near the area of Galvin Road triggered a system that takes the power offline within less than one second. He was able to confirm that piece of equipment that hit the power line was not affiliated with BPA, Centralia City Light, or a subcontractor of either agency.

“Any time you have something like a tree go into a line or a vehicle go into a pole, something that interrupts the flow of electricity along that line, we want that to come offline to maintain stability of the electrical grid and for life-safety issues,” Wingert said. “If you have someone or something in contact with that transmission line, you don’t want that line to continue to be energized or sending power, because that could be a threat to life or result in a fire or other types of damage.”

The Lewis County Public Utility District was able to take power from a secondary line at the Chehalis Substation to re-energize much of its customer base as of 11 a.m. Centralia City Light had to wait for the BPA to re-energize its main line before bringing its substations back online, according to Norton. As of 12:05 p.m., only the Fords Prairie Substation that feeds the UNFI warehouse remained offline.

Chris Roden, general manager of LCPUD, told The Chronicle at about 10:15 a.m. on Friday that it appeared to be a BPA issue similar to the one that knocked power out across Lewis County for about five hours last month.

Roden said LCPUD staff would examine whether they can redirect some power from adjacent sources to customers in the south portions of Lewis County. Customers in Winlock and Vader benefitted from similar action taken during the last major outage and reports indicate they did so again on Friday.

Wingert said that while it is true that the same power bank at the Chehalis Substation was involved in both outages, it would be similar to comparing apples and oranges.

“It’s important to note that the source and the reason for this outage was not the same as before,” Wingert said. “It’s the same bank, but it relayed out for this very specific reason and purpose. Once we were able to identify why it relayed out, we were able to re-energize the bank very quickly. That’s why you saw some power restored to Lewis County PUD before Centralia, they were able to pick up power from another transmission corridor out of the substation.”

The most recent BPA outage on July 12 caused most of Lewis County to lose power for anywhere between three and five hours. The cause of that outage is still under investigation by the BPA, according to Roden. Norton said that while there are similarities between the two, there will also be differences made apparent as more information is released.

“We are continuing to go through the data and information from (the July 12) outage,” Wingert said. “We are working with Centralia and Lewis County PUD to better understand what led to that outage. The outage that happened today is not related to that one.”