The Arizona Republic
Blaze nears Tucson Electric lines; utility can avert blackouts
The Wallow Fire is spreading toward power lines supplying about half of the electricity used by Tucson Electric Power Co. customers, but the company said it won’t have blackouts if the lines are damaged.
The fire is about 8 miles from the TEP lines coming out of the Springerville Generating Station, and if it gets within a mile or so, the thick smoke could cause power to arc from the lines, said Joe Salkowski, a TEP spokesman.
“The risk from the fire is not so much the flames; it is the smoke,” he said.
The company trims the vegetation from underneath the high-power lines, which are suspended from metal towers not likely to burn in the blaze, he said.
TEP could turn to other power plants closer to Tucson and purchase power from other utilities to supply its 375,000 customers if the lines are damaged, he said. Doing so would avoid the need for rolling black- outs.
However, losing power from the lines, which also transmit power to Tucson from the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington, N.M., would make TEP’s electrical system more susceptible to disruptions if it were to lose power from another plant or major transmission line.
TEP’s lines that are threatened by the Wallow Fire run east from the Springerville power plant into New Mexico. They are about 3 miles inside the state line, where they travel south through the forest to Tucson.
TEP has supplied employees at the power plant with respirators to handle the smoke blowing from the fire several miles away, and the company has allowed several employees to leave to evacuate their homes or help others with evacuations. TEP has more than 400 employees in the area, including those that work for a sister company, Southwest Energy Solutions.
El Paso Electric has power lines in the region of the fire that direct its share of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station’s electricity to New Mexico and Texas, and those lines could be affected by the fire within days, the company said.
El Paso warned its 372,000 customers that it could use rolling blackouts if the lines are affected because it gets about 40 percent of its power from them.
Salt River Project and Arizona Public Service Co. are monitoring the fire but don’t expect it will grow large enough to threaten any of their resources in the region.
“I’m not going to say never,” APS spokesman Alan Bunnell said. “(But our nearest power line) is a good distance from the fire, and the terrain changes significantly as well, from the wooded area where the fire is burning to more desert vegetation.”
SRP also has provided respirators to some workers at the Coronado Generating Station, where it has 200 employees, and SRP has allowed several to leave to evacuate their homes.