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Mountain Parks to upgrade system to reduce outage, fire risks

Grand Fire responds to a fire on Tuesday afternoon started by an osprey nest falling onto the power lines, causing a blown fuse. Mountain Parks Electric has seen an increase in outages due to animals following the East Troublesome Fire and is working to upgrade its system to protect against outage and fire risks.
Courtesy Grand County Sheriff's Office

Power briefly went out in the Hot Sulphur Springs and Granby area on Tuesday afternoon when an osprey nest perched precariously on a Mountain Parks Electric power pole teetered into the line, causing a blown fuse.

The incident was one of dozens this year as the electric cooperative sees an increase in animal encounters with power lines following the East Troublesome Fire’s destruction of almost 200,000 acres of habitat. So far this year, the main culprits have been ospreys and ravens, but also a raccoon.

“In a normal year, we’ll have a handful, maybe six, outages caused by animals,” General Manager Mark Johnston said. “That has been intensified this year because of the East Troublesome Fire … and it’s shifted (animals) farther over into our service area.”



Mountain Parks Electric is working on $1.5 million of improvements to the system this year to diminish the likelihood of power outages and fire risk, including undergrounding some lines and clearing areas around power poles and transformers.

When birds, nests or trees come into contact with the power lines, it can cause a blown fuse, shutting down the power and, often, sparking. Mountain Parks Operations Manager Don Finn explained that the current system relies on expulsion fuses, which spark when they blow.



The system improvements would include installation of fault interruptors, also known as Trip Savers, which are self-contained units so that if a fuse is blown, there are no external sparks.

“When the system detects a fault downstream from the fuse, they would blow … but with the Trip Savers, the arc is contained inside a unit so it’s not creating a fire potential or the boom from the expulsion fuse,” Finn said.

Additionally, about $500,000 is spent annually to proactively remove trees and vegetation too close to power lines to keep the area clear of falling and fire hazards, Johnston said.

Mountain Parks works closely with the US Forest Service and other land managers to address the bird issues by implementing avian protection strategies, like setting up safe poles for nesting nearby power poles to draw the birds away from the electric lines.

“Over by Kremmling, we set up another pole close, but not too close, to the substation and an osprey built a nest in there immediately,” Finn said.

An osprey nest fell onto Mountain Parks Electric lines on US Highway 40 causing a fire. The electric cooperative invested in new self-contained trip savers, which don’t spark externally and eliminate fire potential from a blown fuse.
Courtesy Grand County Sheriff’s Office

The system is also designed to adjust to fire restrictions, lowering potentials for sparking a fire by shifting to a one-shot system, which prevents automatic resets or reset attempts when there’s a fault.

“When something comes in contact with the line, like a tree falls, and it tries to reset itself it can actually cause more problems if the system re-energizes the line,” Johnston said, explaining that re-energizing the line can catch whatever is in contact with the line on fire.

Typically, Mountain Parks uses a three-shot system, which can reset the system quicker and prevent outages. Using the one-shot system reduces fire potential, but increases outages because the system has to be reset manually.

The one-shot system is turned on as soon as the county enters Stage 1 fire restrictions.

“It’s a trade-off between reliability and not having outages and protecting the community against fire,” Johnston said.

Installation of the fault interrupters won’t save the system from having to switch to one-shot settings, but will still significantly reduce the system’s fire risk.

Overall, the fault interrupters are just a part of Mountain Parks’ fire mitigation plan over the next few years. Johnston also encouraged residents to reach out about concerns related to trees or vegetation growing too close to power poles, so that those areas can get mitigation if needed.

 


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