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Grant PUD to expand fiber backbone capacity

by Cheryl Schweizer
Staff Writer | February 17, 2020 10:50 PM

EPHRATA — With more customers hooking up to the Grant County PUD fiber optic system for internet service, utility district officials are working on upgrading the system’s capacity to 100 gigabytes.

Will Coe of the of PUD’s power delivery division said the system has the capacity to be expanded to 100 GB, but currently is at 20 GB. Because the number of users is expanding, the system is getting close to its 20 GB capacity.

Users can still access the system even when it’s close to the 20 GB maximum, Coe said, but processing speeds will slow down as it approaches capacity. Engineers and technicians are working on the upgrades.

“The goal is to have it all in place by the end of the year so that we can have full use of this 100 gig backbone,” Coe said.

In addition to the fiber upgrades, utility district crews are involved in a long-term project to replace transmission equipment in an effort to reduce pole fires.

Mike Tongue, senior manager of power production construction and maintenance, said crews were working on switching out equipment that could contribute to fires.

Porcelain insulators and metal supports are being replaced with polymer insulators and fiberglass supports, Coe said. It’s dusty in Grant County, and the dust can build up on an insulator, he said. When it’s misty or foggy and the dust gets a little wet it can cause a short, which can develop into a fire. Polymer insulators turn out to be a better solution, Coe said; “polymer actually sheds water better than porcelain.” The polymer insulators last longer, up to 60 years, and are easier to install, he said. “Birds don’t like to nest on polymer as they do porcelain, for some reason,” Coe said.

The fiberglass cross-arm supports also help reduce the potential for pole fires. Fiberglass is a better insulator than wood, Coe said. “Wood will track electricity a lot more than does fiberglass,” Fiberglass is lighter, and birds are also less likely to nest on a fiberglass support.

Tongue said that utility district crews don’t know the cause in about 30 percent of the pole fires. Utility district employees will be taking a closer look at those cases in 2020, Tongue said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.