Oregon utilities pledge rapid progress on power failures, but restoration could linger in hardest hit areas

By Courtney Sherwood (OPB)
Feb. 18, 2021 2 p.m. Updated: Feb. 19, 2021 3:38 p.m.

Just over 70,000 Oregon customers remain in the dark as of Friday morning. PGE says about 15,000 customers can expect prolonged outages into the weekend or beyond.

With snow and ice melted or receding across much of Oregon, thousands of utility workers are making rapid progress in their push to restore power, according to the state’s largest electricity providers.

But 15,000 homes and businesses in the hardest-hit areas of the state — Silverton, Canby, Woodburn, Sublimity and Stayton — could still be in the dark through the weekend and into next week, Portland General Electric CEO Maria Pope said late Thursday morning. PGE is still gathering information and cannot be more specific about when those last customers will have service restored, she said.


Although close to 85,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity Thursday evening, Pope said PGE expects 90% of its remaining power failures to be fixed by Friday night. Pacific Power said it has already restored electricity to the bulk of its own customers, with the greatest remaining challenges in the Willamette Valley. The company has since restored service to about 20,000 customers as of Friday morning.

PGE contractors from DJ's Electrical in Portland repair a transformer box on a power pole on Southeast Madison Street near 17th Avenue in Portland, Feb. 16, 2021. Portland General Electric officials said post of its customers' power will be restored by Friday night.

PGE contractors from DJ's Electrical in Portland repair a transformer box on a power pole on Southeast Madison Street near 17th Avenue in Portland, Feb. 16, 2021. Portland General Electric officials said post of its customers' power will be restored by Friday night.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

As power companies continue to tame the lingering effects of last weekend’s snow and ice, some lives have been changed permanently: At least four people have died of carbon monoxide poisoning as they attempted to stay warm without their electricity to run their home heating systems, and at least one person died without electricity to operate medical equipment. Thousands were forced to throw out food tainted by lack of refrigeration, and more than half a million people have spent at least some portion of the past week without power.

COVID-19 shipments to the state have been delayed by weather both in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in the country, and some vaccine doses may have been lost due when freezers lost power, though state health officials said they did their best to identify new storage options in those cases.

And as utility leaders remained focused on the emergency at hand, advocates and state leaders are beginning to look to the future. Though it has been decades since Oregon faced such widespread disruption to its power grid, climate change could make major ice storms a more frequent threat in the years ahead.

PGE, Pacific Power offer updates on progress

PGE officials acknowledged the frustration of people whose electricity has been out for days, noting that some crews have been approached by angry customers, in addition to curious and grateful onlookers.

Dale Goodman, director of utility operations, on Thursday morning asked members of the public to give both downed power lines and electrical workers a wide berth.

Live wires are dangerous and potentially fatal, he said, and crews need to focus on their work in order to be safe. “They are working around live power, and it’s a very dangerous situation,” he added, equating answering questions while restoring power to driving while using a cell phone.

At times in recent days, PGE appeared to be engaged in a delicate dance, two steps forward, one step back, as water-logged branches took down powerlines nearly as fast as crews could restore electricity. But gradually, the utility has gained ground.


Pope said that the utility has received help from thousands of workers from across Washington, Nevada and Montana, as well as other Oregon utilities. PGE has restored 228 distribution lines as of midday Thursday, with 11 left to repair.

In the areas of Clackamas and Marion counties that are hardest hit, crews are taking a creative approach to restore power as quickly as they are able, Goodman said. “We are looking for all kinds of solutions, engineering solutions, field solutions as we confront the catastrophic damage,” he said. Where poles have been downed, for example, crews are finding ways to back-feed circuits to return power to homes more quickly than it will be able to install new polls.

PGE has been restoring electricity to hospitals, elder care facilities and essential utilities like water treatment plants first, where it can, then shifting to the largest groups of customers still without power.

PGE reported on its outages page that 68,440 customers were without power at 7:20 a.m. Friday, with service restored to more than half a million others.

Pacific Power made its quickest progress in the Portland area, where most damage involved downed lines, but still faced significant challenges in the Willamette Valley, Allen Berreth, vice president of operations, said in a statement.

“The damage in the areas of Dallas, Stayton and Albany is far more extensive, involving many cross arms and entire poles that needed replacement,” Berreth said Wednesday. “This work is much more time-consuming, but we have the crews and equipment to get everyone back online.”

Pacific Power reported 2,258 customers still in the dark as of 7:20 a.m. Friday.

Storm resources, and digging out

Replacement benefits: People who receive SNAP food benefits and lost purchased food due to power outages can apply to have their benefits restored by the Oregon Department of Human Services. People must request replacement benefits within 10 days of food loss.

Xfinity is offering internet customers partial refunds if they lost access to the web due to the storms. Click here to submit a request.

Stay warm: 211info.org maintains an updated list of warming shelters across Oregon, including hours of operation and eligibility.

Know before you go: The Oregon Department of Transportation’s Tripcheck.com map features road camera, road closure information and traffic conditions on state-operated roads (think: highways) across the state. The Washington State Department of Transportation offers a similar map with travel alerts across the state.

Prepare before you travel: ODOT also provides a helpful list of tips to keep in mind before setting out for winter travel.

Check your list: The Washington State Department of Transportation has some helpful checklists for winter driving, including what to carry in your car.

Watch the plows: For Portland residents, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has a live map that shows where the city’s snowplows are in real-time.


Related Stories