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BPA Aims to Catch Powerline Shooter

by Staff
Albany Democrat-Herald, August 18, 2006

LEBANON -- The Bonneville Power Administration Friday offered a reward of up to $25,000 to catch whoever caused the power failure that hit part of the Lebanon area Tuesday night.

Somebody had used firearms to shoot out insulators on a Bonneville Power Administration transmission line, the BPA said from Portland.

The gunfire is what caused the four-hour outage to Consumers Power Inc.'s Lebanon substation.

The reward offered by the agency is for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible.

The vandalism to BPA's Green Peter-Lebanon 115-kilovolt line occurred in a densely wooded area approximately 11 miles east of Lebanon. The line faulted at 6:22 p.m., and power to the Lebanon substation was restored at 10:28 p.m.

Spokeswoman Mary Zimmerman of Consumers Power said the outage affected about 5,000 of the company's 20,000 customers, most of whom are in Linn and Benton County. She said she received outage reports from Lebanon and Sweet Home and a few customers in Scio.

"We had to have some linemen out to help Bonneville, " she said. "It took four hours to find the problem and it was a terrible inconvenience to people in the evening."

Zimmerman said crews focused first on restoring power and making repairs. It wasn't until the next day, she said, that she heard BPA crews found the insulators had been shot.

When insulators are damaged in this way, BPA officials said, power flowing over the line can go to ground, presenting a serious safety hazard -- even the potential for electrocution -- to people or livestock in the vicinity of the transmission tower. During dry, hot weather, this also presents a fire hazard.

BPA said in addition to safety issues, vandalism and other crimes cost ratepayers $500,000 to $1 million a year in direct costs of replacing stolen or damaged equipment. This figure does not account for lost revenues and economic losses to electricity customers due to power interruptions.

BPA's Crime Witness Program offers monetary rewards for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of individuals committing crimes against BPA facilities, which are federal government property. Anyone having such information should call BPA's Crime Witness Hotline at (800) 437-2744. The line is confidential, and rewards are issued in such a way that the caller's identity remains confidential.

Consumers Power is not connected to this reward, Zimmerman said, but it offers a similar program to people who call in tips about vandalism.

Pacific Power, which experienced a major outage in Albany and Corvallis the day after Lebanon's, has ruled out vandalism. Some 43,000 customers were left without power for more than an hour because of a broken insulator at an Albany substation.

Spokeswoman Bekki Witt said some kind of stress on the porcelain insulator caused the metal end cap to sheer off. A power surge or product defect could produce such stress, she said.

"At first glance -- well, at any glance -- it does not appear to be vandalism," Witt said.

BPA Aims to Catch Powerline Shooter
Albany Democrat-Herald, August 18, 2006

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