AltaLink photo. An AltaLink crew member working on a power line to help with wildfire mitigation efforts.
Nicholas L. M. Allen
May 3, 2023
Making the grid more resilient to wildfire risk, ensuring public safety in dangerous conditions and keeping the community informed.
With wildfires becoming more frequent and intense throughout Alberta, protecting communities while providing safe, reliable power has become a top priority for AltaLink.
“The most important thing is, with wildfires becoming more frequent and intense, AltaLink’s highest priority is protecting the community while continuing to provide safe and reliable power to the area. To do that, we’re focused on implementing a series of measures to both strengthen our system and minimize the risk of wildfires,” said Amanda Sadleir, Manager of Communications at AltaLink.
In 2019, Alberta experienced one of the worst years for wildfires in its history, with a staggering 880,000 hectares burned. While there were fewer wildfires in each of the last few years, the risk related to wildfire is still high.
Making the grid more resilient to wildfire risk
With more than 13,000 kilometres of transmission lines delivering electricity to 85 per cent of Albertans, AltaLink used third-party experts to create fire threat maps which identified high-risk fire areas in its service area, and the Crowsnest Pass is one of them. Now AltaLink is focused on implementing a series of measures to strengthen its electric system and minimize the risk of wildfires.
“We’re maintaining, updating and strengthening our system to deliver safe and reliable power to homes and businesses while reducing wildfire risk,” said Sadleir, “This includes enhanced analysis of weather conditions in real time, additional inspections of our transmission lines in high-risk fire areas, rebuilding older lines that are not as resilient to high winds, and vegetation management to reduce potential contacts with transmission lines that could result in a wildfire.”
Ensuring public safety in dangerous conditions
One of the components of AltaLink’s wildfire mitigation plan is the Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS). A PSPS is a preventative, but last resort, measure that involves proactively shutting off power during extreme and dangerous weather conditions.
“Shutting off power is a last resort measure to ensure safety in the community. This scenario will be initiated only when conditions create extreme wildfire risk,” explains Sadleir, “Under these conditions, if a wildfire were to happen it would be difficult to suppress and could potentially lead to catastrophic impacts. That is what we want to avoid. Although we can’t predict future fire seasons, we anticipate this to be a rare occurrence.”
According to AltaLink, there have been two scenarios in the region in the last 10 years that would have initiated a PSPS watch under AltaLink’s plan. Both scenarios lasted approximately one hour.
A wide range of factors are assessed before executing a PSPS, including wind speeds, humidity levels, the presence of dry vegetation or other potential fuels in the area, and real-time observation on the ground.
Keeping the community informed
During a PSPS, residents and businesses lose access to the electricity they rely on for most of their daily activities. Although this measure is only expected to be used under rare conditions, AltaLink encourages everyone to update their emergency plans and supplies so that they are prepared in the event of an emergency.
Since wildfire conditions can change rapidly there is no set timeline for a PSPS. As part of its response plan, AltaLink will work with local emergency management leaders and industry partners to provide as much advance notice as possible, with ongoing updates until it has been determined that power can safely be restored.
The most important thing we want people to know is that we’re focused on doing what we can to minimize risk and protect the community while continuing to provide the reliable and safe power that everybody relies on every day. That’s our highest priority is making sure that the community is safe,” said Sadleir.
Visit altalink.ca/wildfiresafety for more information about AltaLink’s wildfire mitigation plan.