PSE Can Help You!
By Robin Bush, ISR Outreach Director
I recently visited with Walt Blackford, Outreach Manager for Puget Sound Energy on Whidbey Island, to talk about electric safety and how to prepare for storm-related outages. We also reviewed some of PSE’s popular energy efficiency programs. ISR is one of PSE’s Powerful Partners for 2020. Together we are helping our communities.
RB: Walt, how does PSE prepare for winter storms?
WB: Our crews and storm support staff participate in training in the fall, and we stock appropriate supplies and equipment at our service center in Oak Harbor. We also prepare during the spring and summer through vegetation management by trimming or removing trees that might produce outages caused by high winds or heavy snowfall. RB: What can ISR readers do to prepare for unplanned outages? WB: First, we encourage all customers to create an emergency kit based on their personal needs and size of their household. Don’t forget to include food and other items for your pets! Red Cross and Island County Department of Emergency Management have great checklists for what to include in your kit. For major outages, PSE recommends 7-10 days of water and non-perishable food; however, because we live on an island in an earthquake zone, it makes sense to prepare for a disaster that could last two weeks or more. You can find more information here.
RB: Does it make sense for residents and businesses on Whidbey to install emergency generators?
WB: Outages on Whidbey generally have become shorter and less frequent. Just ask anyone who lived here in the ‘90s or earlier! The grid system is stronger, and vegetation management is more effective. So, this is very much a personal question for each PSE customer, based on their circumstances. Individuals with medical conditions that require electricity-powered equipment 24/7 will want to give this serious consideration. Obviously, it involves a financial investment, and not everyone has the resources, but for those with financial capacity, there is a wide range of possibilities. The smallest portable generators cost $2,000+ and provide power for basic appliances like a refrigerator, some lighting, and a space heater, but not an electric furnace. As generators increase in size, they increase in cost. An automatic whole-house generator can cost $25,000 or more. There’s lots of information on the internet about selecting, installing, and safely operating a back-up generator. Go to PSE’s website: www.pse.com/pages/generator-safety.
RB: If we come across a downed power line, what should we do?
WB: First, assume any line on the ground is energized and stay at least 35 feet away. At a safe distance, call 911 or PSE (888-225-5773) to report the downed wire. If possible, remain in the area to warn others to stay away until a PSE crew or first responders arrive. Do not drive over a downed wire because it might become entangled with your vehicle and cause additional damage. If the line is on or near your vehicle, and you are inside, remain in the vehicle until PSE or first responders have assured you it is safe to exit or to move the vehicle.
RB: On Whidbey, some folks insist they always are last to be restored. Can you explain PSE’s process for responding to an outage?
WB: Our first priority is the safety of our crews and outage support teams. In the event of a weather-related outage, we will not deploy damage assessors until it is safe to do so. Once they are in the field, they report to storm headquarters on the damage they find. The storm response team then assigns crews with focus on repairing high-voltage transmission lines and substations. When these are completed, crews shift to priorities like water treatment plants, hospitals, schools, and other essential public facilities. The overall guideline is to restore the greatest number of customers in the shortest amount of time. So, individuals living in more remote areas with few neighbors may be among the last to be restored.
RB: I know PSE offers programs that help reduce energy use and save money. Tell us about a few of the most popular or effective.
WB: If electricity usage can be reduced, PSE probably has a program that will help. Programs include weatherization, insulation upgrades, installing double-pane windows to replace single-pane, upgrading refrigerators and other appliances, installing energy efficient LED bulbs to replace old incandescent versions, replacing baseboard heaters with ductless heat pumps, and more. We’ll even help pay for a programmable “smart” thermostat so customers can manage energy usage remotely through the internet. We also have special programs for customers who live in manufactured homes. Not many customers realize that we will pick-up and properly dispose of your old refrigerator or freezer if it was made in 1992 or earlier, although it must be working. Plus, we’ll pay you $25! Details at: www.pse.com/rebates.
RB: Finally, if customers find themselves unable to pay all or some of their bill, does PSE offer any assistance?
WB: Customers who meet income eligibility guidelines can request bill pay and weatherization assistance through Opportunity Council in Oak Harbor. First-time applicants must schedule an appointment by calling 1-800-317-5427 or on their website:www.oppco.org/basic-needs/home-energy. We also will make payment arrangements, so the balance due does not have to be paid all at once.
RB: What number should people call if they have questions?
WB: For general questions or billing/payment issues, call 888-225-5773. For questions about how to reduce energy usage, call the Energy Advisor team at 800-562-1482. RB: Thank you Walt!