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Officials warn of power outages as fire season heats up

As the region enters peak fire season, town officials gathered this week to discuss the potential of power outages in Truckee.

The Truckee Donner Public Utility District, which is dependent on the transmission of electricity from NV Energy, has previously warned customers of possible prolonged power outages due to extreme fire danger.

On Wednesday evening, representatives from the town, along with business owners from western Nevada County, gathered for a town hall in order to detail what to expect and the impacts of an outage.



Truckee Emergency Services Coordinator Robert Womack said that potential outages are likelier toward the end of fire season. As far as warning residents, Womack said the town will take cues from NV Energy, but that there’s potential for customers to be warned of an impending outage that doesn’t occur.

“There’s a lot of potential weather events that could occur, and so we have to balance notifying people too early in the cycle where we basically cry wolf,” he said.




If the power does go down, Womack said that a number of challenges will face the community. Electric powered car charging systems in Truckee will be down, grocery stores could lose perishable goods if power is out for an extended time, and only one fuel station will be operational.

“You can imagine what that’s going to look like compared to when we normally have the five or six we have,” said Womack.

If NV Energy does shut the power off — even briefly — the Truckee Donner Public Utility District said it will have to inspect roughly 200 miles of lines before the area’s power can be fully restored, a process that could take a day. Due to the potential of extended periods without power, Womack stressed the importance of preparation.

“Government can’t take care of all of it,” said Womack. “We need to get people involved ahead of time.”

Additionally, resource centers in town where small devices can be charged will be operational at the Truckee Tahoe Airport, Old Corp Yard, and possibly in the Tahoe Donner area.

Customers will be notified of possible shut-offs through the district and through Nixle. Emails and texts will be sent out 24 to 48 hours ahead of a planned shut-off, and again four to 12 hours before power is turned off.

WESTERN COUNTY

While planned power outages are new for Truckee residents, those living in western Nevada County have dealt with PG&E’s outages for a few years.

Lauren Scott, sustainability coordinator for BriarPatch Food Co-op in Grass Valley, said the store lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of perishable food during a multi-day outage in 2019. She advised locals to assume grocery stores will be closed during an outage and to stock up on foods that don’t require power to prepare. The company offers tips for a no-power pantry on its website at briarpatch.coop.

Gretchen Bond, executive director at Miners Foundry Cultural Center in Nevada City, said the top priority during a shut-off is communication.

“Communication is really, really important,” she said. “So if you’re living in a situation where you might have a power outage, you definitely need to keep whatever devices that are important to you — you need to keep them charged.”

One issue that may arise during an outage, however, is cell service being impacted. Womack said that if power goes out, community members will likely use phones as mobile hotspots, which could affect service and potentially hinder calls to emergency numbers.

“Is there a way to give 911 calls a priority? No, there’s not,” said Womack. “The cell systems don’t work that way, unfortunately.”

Wireless emergency alerts won’t be affected by outages, according to Womack.

For additional information and resources, visit http://www.tdpud.org/wildfire-safety. To contact Truckee Donner Public Utility District to update contact information, visit http://www.tdpud.org or call 530-387-3896.

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at jscacco@sierrasun.com or 530-550-2643


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