It was the largest disaster in the 80 year history of Lower Valley Energy. A wet winter storm February 7, 2017 that was coupled with 90+ MPH hour winds resulting in the loss of 17 steel transmission poles and power to 3500-4000 customers, including Teton Village and Jackson Hole Airport. It was all hands on deck as Lower Valley Energy worked with neighboring utilities to replace the fallen poles and restore power. Jim Webb, President and CEO of Lower Valley Energy, spoke with Duke Dance February 21 during the Weekday Wake-up on SVI Radio about the logistics of such a massive undertaking.
“We’ve got some excellent people. We’ve got some very good engineers and excellent people on our staff,” Webb said during the radio interview. “We do have a disaster recovery plan and we followed that. There’s lots that goes into planning a job like that. You don’t just go out and start digging holes and setting poles up.”
On top of coordinating with the BPA, local officials, grounding the wires, setting up tents and even bringing in portable toilets for crews, weather continued to be a problem as roads leading into the Jackson Hole area were closed off and on.
“Getting Materiel in was a nightmare,” Said Webb. He went on to explain that some staff drove two nights in a row to Boise, Salt Lake City and Denver to gather materials and bring them back in.
According to Webb, once the preparation and logistics were resolved, it took only 2 1/2 days to restore and rebuild the entire line. 23 wooden posts were used to replace the 17 steel structures that collapsed.
In the conversation, Webb talked about the reason the poles collapsed, what is being done to prevent similar incidents in the future, what the temporary line will be replaced with and the process of seeking federal funds to cover the costs. Webb stated that the temporary line racked up a bill of about $600,000. The permanent line that will be installed this summer is expected to cost $1.2 million. Webb stated that energy rates from Lower Valley Energy are not expected to increase to cover these unexpected costs.