EID hit with 4 of PG&E’s PSPS in three weeks

by Placerville Newswire / Nov 01, 2019 / comments

<Jim Abercrombie, EID>

Long-Term Reliability and Resilience Requires Investment.

As I write this column in late October, portions of EID’s service area have experienced four of PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events in the space of three weeks: four events that ensured that much of our service area has been without power for up to 48 hours at a time. It was also four events that tested our meticulous preparations. During each frustrating event, EID’s vital water and wastewater treatment services remained safe and reliable.

EID has been making preparations for these power shutoffs since 2018. After analyzing the areas in our system that would need to be bolstered in the event of large-scale power outages—pump stations or other facilities without backup power—we asked the EID board of directors to approve $800,000 to purchase generators that could be utilized across our 220-square-mile service area.

The board’s recognition of the urgency of having this backup power was timely and helped us not only increase the resilience of our system, it kept our customers in service throughout the PG&E outages. The Board has also approved grant applications to offset the costs of further purchases of generators for other critical locations over the next couple of years as we respond to the new norm of large-scale outages.

EID has deployed and used as many as 150 large and smaller generators during these outages. Our personnel have made detailed plans with fuel distributors and created precise schedules to ensure we have the fuel needed to run the generators should the power stay off for extended periods.

We have been fortunate. While running our many facilities on backup power is workable in the short-term, relying on emergency power to run power-hungry facilities is problematic should a power outage persist for multiple days. These generators are intended as a backup supply of power and represent our last line of defense against interruption of service to our customers.

That concern is why we ask our customers to use water sparingly during power outages. When customer demand is lower, it’s easier for our facilities—especially if they are running on backup power—to keep up with the demands of treatment, pumping, and distributing water or collecting and treating wastewater.

It’s important to remember: we only ask for conservation during the power outages. The conservation is necessary to preserve the District’s water quantity—not quality. The water quality is unaffected and is always perfectly safe to drink.

EID has an integrated drinking water system. Customers in the western end of our service area in El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park can receive water that has been released from Jenkinson Lake and treated in Pollock Pines—over 30 miles to the east. That means that any time we experience an outage across any significant portion of our service area, all of our customers are affected.

So when we asked our customers to reduce their water usage—an easy way to do that is stop outside watering, limit showers, and reduce dish and clothes washing—we were asking all of them, even customers whose power might have been unaffected, to conserve because an interruption of water service will affect everyone—even those with power.

Because even if your power is on, it’s very likely key infrastructure that your home and neighborhood relies on many miles distant may be without power and using backup emergency power.

Our customers responded tremendously well during the power shutoff events. We are grateful for our customers’ patience and understanding during power outages that also significantly affect EID infrastructure.

Without planning and purchasing the necessary supplies and equipment—fuel purchased and delivered to maintain days of backup generator power—our system would be defenseless. Planning has allowed us to ensure no customer goes without service during an emergency. But we also must plan for the long-term.

Planning for Long-Term Resilience

The PG&E PSPS events have become alarmingly regular features of life in our community and many other regions across California. 

“EID’s operations rely upon uninterrupted electrical power through approximately 170 separate electrical service connections from PG&E in order to ensure safe and reliable operations,” said EID Operations Director Dan Corcoran. 

“Most of these connections directly supply the electricity for the drinking water and wastewater treatment, distribution, pumping, and hydropower generation facilities critical to the 24/7 operational needs for these facilities. Any loss of power requires immediate action to protect public safety. When the lights went out, District staff, many of whom had no power at their own homes, responded without skipping a beat to support fellow members of our community by providing ongoing drinking water and fire fighting supplies as well as wastewater treatment during this challenging time.”

The EID Board of Directors, recognizing the critical need to ensure uninterrupted power and increasing risk to maintaining water and wastewater service under PG&E’s PSPS program, unanimously approved over $800,000 in the past year alone for the purchase and installation of a number of back up electrical generators at critical sites. These recent acquisitions are in addition to dozens of generators EID has previously invested in and deployed at key locations to maintain water and wastewater services to the more than 126,000 people it serves in El Dorado County.

“During each of October’s four outages, EID deployed and maintained approximately 85 large generators to power various water, wastewater, hydroelectric, fleet, and administration facilities,” said Corcoran. “In addition to those large assets, we had over 70 smaller generators assisting with backup power for radio communications and the SCADA software system EID personnel use to remotely monitor and control facilities. Since each outage affected the majority of EID’s service area, many of these generators were under heavy use.”

Generators need a consistent supply of fuel to maintain power for these key facilities, so EID personnel deployed comprehensive, pre-planned refueling schedules and routes to ensure every generator across the District’s wide service area was able to run without interruption to support our customers.

“These outages have been all-hands-on-deck moments,” said EID General Manager Jim Abercrombie. “Our customers were outstanding in helping us weather this challenge. Though we had backup power running critical infrastructure, we asked customers to use water sparingly and the response was tremendous—not having to worry about high demand on both the water and wastewater systems helped reduce the stress on facilities that are running on emergency power and ensuring continuous safe operation until normal conditions can be restored on utility grid power.

“On behalf of EID’s hardworking men and women, I want to thank our customers deeply for their patience during the multiple PG&E outages. It is extremely gratifying to maintain high-quality water and wastewater service to all of our customers during these challenging events. It’s very clear that our customers have worked together as one community to respond to this challenge.”