News

7 things you should know about how we restore your power

Image of Power Line Technician repairing downed line
Sometimes you see us near your homes, sometimes you don't. The source of a power outage can be from a fallen tree on a power line in your neighbourhood, or at a transmission line or substation kilometres away.

Some answers to questions you might have during the next winter storm

B.C. is blessed with an abundance of beautiful trees and a pretty amazing landscape in most places. Unfortunately, the natural beauty that we all enjoy can wreak havoc when winter storms bring unusually high winds and heavy rainfall – particularly on the electricity system.

For us here at BC Hydro, "storm season" means an increased likelihood of power outages, and more crews ready to respond at a moment's notice to outages that can affect thousands of our customers.

Our crews are experts when it comes to getting power back on quickly. But we know that when you're sitting in the cold and the dark, any outage can feel like a long time. And if you don't know what's happening, sometimes it feels even longer.

So we've put together some of the most frequently-asked questions about how our crews restore power.

1. Stay back at least 10 metres from a power line on the ground

You may think that a damaged power line that's still live with electricity would be sparking, smoking or at least making a buzzing sound. But a fallen power line might be live even if it's not doing any of those things. Always assume a fallen power line is live.

Stay back at least 10 metres (about the length of a bus), keep anyone else in the area away, and call 911. Fallen power lines are an emergency, and our crews will work with emergency responders to make the area safe.

2. How do we prioritize getting the lights back on?

Safety is always our first priority. We'll work to repair any issues that present an immediate danger to health and safety. From there, it's a matter of getting the most customers back on as quickly as possible.

  • That often means repairing high-voltage transmission lines and substations. Transmission lines, unlike the distribution lines in your neighbourhood or on your street, serve large numbers of customers. Damage to a transmission line or substation equipment can affect tens of thousands of people, instead of a few hundred.
  • Next, we'll work with municipalities and emergency responders to get power back to critical services, such as hospitals, fire stations, and municipal water systems.
  • We restore outages affecting a large neighbourhood, then smaller neighbourhoods, and finally, outages affecting individual customers or small pockets of five customers or fewer. That can mean that "newer" outages that affect much larger numbers of people may get tackled before an "older" outage in a smaller neighbourhood.

3. We don't know about trees or branches on the lines until you tell us

We need to figure out what's caused the problem – and that's where you come in. Smart meters have made it easier than ever for our crews to pinpoint how many customers are out, but they can't tell us what's causing the problem. That's why we still ask that you call 1 888 POWERON on a corded landline, or *49376 on your mobile device if you have key information that will help our crews. If you can see a tree down on power lines, a branch on the lines, if you saw a bright flash or have any other information, give us a call.

4. If you can't see us, it doesn't mean we're not working on the problem

Distribution lines from local substations are often located a distance from your home. A tree down four or five blocks away could be causing your outage.

If your power is out due to a problem on a transmission line or at a substation, it can be several kilometres away. We often have customers tell us that they haven't seen any trucks or crews in their area – but just because you can't see them doesn't mean that we're not working on your problem.

It's a similar situation if you see crews arrive, and then leave. Crews usually can't determine the extent of the damage or the repairs that are required until they arrive on site. They may need different equipment to make repairs, or they may determine that the source of the problem is in another area. If we leave, chances are crews are still working on getting power back. Watch for updates on our mobile-friendly site at bchydro.com/outages – as crews report in about the damage, we'll provide estimates of when we expect to get power back on.

5. When surrounding areas have power and you don't, we haven't forgotten about you

We may call it the electricity "grid", but distribution circuits and feeders from substations aren't laid out in a perfect square. So while most outages caused by storm damage can affect entire blocks or streets, there are times when your neighbours or the next street over are served by a different line or feeder. That can sometimes mean that you may have power and your neighbours don't – or vice versa.

You can check our outage map to see the latest status for your power outage. Search by your address to find it on the map or select the red dot closest to your home to see the outage area. We'll post estimated restoration times once crews have arrived and assessed the damage, and update the estimates as they work.

6. Getting the lights back on can sometimes mean turning them off again

When crews are making repairs, we do everything we can to get the lights back on in the meantime. In some areas, we're able to switch customers to another circuit temporarily to start providing power again while crews work. It makes outages shorter and gets the lights back on while we fix and replace equipment.

But to complete the switching process, we sometimes need to take a short outage to allow crews to do their work . For you, this might look like your power coming back, only to go out again shortly after.

7. Putting power lines underground can't eliminate power outages

Outages during storm season are mostly caused by fallen trees, so it's reasonable to think that we could prevent most outages by simply putting power lines underground. But the truth is that there are thousands upon thousands of kilometres of power lines to serve homes and businesses in B.C., and putting them all underground would be difficult and hugely expensive.

Underground power lines are typically much more difficult to locate, access, and repair. This usually means longer outages, which can affect more customers than a single overhead line.

Specialized vegetation experts and our partners in the municipalities work to proactively identify trees at risk of falling onto lines – known as hazard trees. And we regularly maintain and prune trees around our equipment.

One of the best things to do when it comes to preventing power outages from trees is to plant the right tree in the right place [PDF, 1.6 MB].

Prepare for an outage, just in case

We do our best to prevent power outages, and to respond as quickly as we can when major storms hit. But winter weather is unpredictable, so you should always be prepared in case of an outage. Keep an emergency kit on hand, and use our mobile site to stay informed if one does hit.