By Rose Marie Scott-Blair
As San Diego Gas & Electric crews have worked to improve fire safety since the 2007 wildfires, what have they done specifically to help the Ramona area?
One of the most widely felt results of the 2007 fires in Ramona was when the water supply was cut off after wooden power poles burned and fell, knocking out electrical power to the Poway Pump Station on Green Valley Truck Trail north of Lake Poway. Since the Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) uses this facility to pump water up the hill to Ramona, the water supply to the town was shut off for four days, delaying a return home by those who had evacuated.
“We had the water up and running 24 hours after losing power using a huge generator provided by SDG&E, but there was another three-day delay caused by state health department requirements for testing the water,” said Ralph McIntosh, RMWD general manager. “We had to have three sample sets come back negative before we were good to go.”
Since then utility crews have replaced 81 wooden poles with steel ones on a six-mile stretch in the Warren Canyon area east of the pump station. Work on this 69,000-volt line that feeds the pump station was completed in March 2009, said SDG&E spokesman Stephanie Donovan.
“This improvement will help keep the pump station energized,” she said.
McIntosh said the changes make him feel “more confident than I did before. After the incident in 2007, we looked into getting a backup generator at the pump station for this purpose, but monetarily and environmentally it just wasn’t feasible.”
When it comes to providing electrical power for Ramona, the most important link is SDG&E’s Creelman substation, located about three miles east of state Route 67 on Creelman Lane.
“We have hardened two transmission feeds into the Creelman substation that serves Ramona,” Donovan said.
First, a “tie line,” which connects electrical and communications systems, was converted from wooden to steel poles in 2008. And another tie line, which was originally built on steel poles, was checked recently and “it was determined that they meet extreme wind criteria,” she said.
“Two other upcoming projects will enhance the reliability of the transmission system in Ramona, including the transmission line between the Creelman and Santa Ysabel substations,” Donovan said.
“Our engineers are nearly finished with the design for that project, and construction could begin by the end of the year if all permits and approvals are received in a timely manner.
“Another project is under way to underground a portion of the transmission line to the west of Creelman substation, as well as to install steel poles in place of wood. The design for that project is already complete and construction could start before the end of the year.
“When we can take lines off of poles and underground them about a mile out from a substation, it reduces the chance that a whole substation will go out,” Donovan explained. “It also helps protect substations from being affected by high winds.”
To give the utility greater control of power in smaller areas, SDG&E has been installing IntelliRupter(CQ) switches, and 10 have been placed on the six major circuits that serve Ramona.
Donovan described the remote control switches as “a ‘brain’ that can detect a fault on a power line, such as a tree branch, and can automatically shut off the power without human intervention. To test whether the line is OK to re-energize after a power outage, SDG&E can send a very low pulse of energy remotely, and the switch will alert us if there is still a problem with the line or if the fault has cleared.”
This feature helps shorten the length of an outage and “allows us to test a portion of a circuit at a time, helping avoid circuit-wide outages,” she said.
When the utility added 71 new weather stations in 2010, 11 of those stations were in Ramona. The stations track wind speed and direction, as well as the temperature and relative humidity. By visiting the SDG&E website, under outages, residents can track fire risk conditions in their own community.
Having more weather stations means that, should it be necessary to shut off power because of high risk fire conditions, the utility can be very specific, affecting fewer customers, Donovan said.
Finally, the utility “hardened its system” in Ramona’s town center in 2010, replacing wooden poles, which can withstand wind speeds of 56 mph, with steel ones that tolerate winds of up to 85 mph.
“SDG&E has devoted quite a bit of time and resources over the past year to upgrade the overhead distribution and transmission systems in and around the community of Ramona,” Donovan said.