Power Restored to Downtown Portland | 101 KXL

Power Restored to Downtown Portland

Written by Jeremy Scott on December 11, 2013

PORTLAND — Extensive repairs in an underground electrical vault were completed early Wednesday morning and the power was back on within hours to an eight-block area of downtown that was dark for 72 hours.

Sunday morning’s explosion and fire put a halt to business for the city and county.  It also meant a loss of holiday sales to the tune of millions of dollars.

PGE crews with specialized equipment worked in tight spaces in the vaults to make repairs and get the juice flowing again.  They have no reason to believe that sabotage was involved in the underground explosion.

The utility’s Steve Corson says one of the challenges in getting the electricity restored was repairing destroyed equipment.  He says the incident was “pretty unusual”.

“We haven’t had an outage of this magnitude in the downtown core area for 25 or 30 years,” said Corson.

The impact of the blast blew off a manhole cover at Southwest 5th & Taylor, knocking out electricity to nearly twenty blocks.  Most though had their power back by that night.  4th and 5th avenues between Morrison and Jefferson remained dark with police guarding intersections and Max trains stopping at every block for safety.


City Hall, Multnomah County Courthouse and the Portland Building were closed on Monday and Tuesday, but re-opened on Wednesday.  The court administrator says it could take two to three months to get through the backlog of cases.

Pioneer Place

Pioneer Place’s Atrium Pavilion was closed and lost holiday business while others operated on generators or not at all.

Map of the affected area
Map of the affected area

Posted Under: Local Headlines, Today's Top Stories

3 replies to “Power Restored to Downtown Portland

  1. pdxgirl

    I thought downtown was supposed to be on the PGE Downtown Reliability Grid, with redundant meshed substations, to keep critical businesses online during such events? I guess not, eh?


  2. Benjamin

    From what I can gather in this redundant setup components like transformers and breakers for an area are often located in the same location. If equipment explodes, damaging others in the vicinity then the extra equipment could be damaged also. So if a transformer explodes and takes out the 2 others next to it, for example. The problem is twofold because this equipment is hard to put in completely seperate locations from the backups, and high voltage equipment is prone to failing catastrophically which destroys or damages backup systems. The solution could be changing designs to fail more gracefully, physical seperation or blast and fireproof barriers between redundant equipment. There are many constraints and trade offs especially underground where space is limited. Including but not limited to accessibility for repair, efficiency, cost and operational requirements necessitating that components be near one another to function as designed. Take the example of the 787′s batterey pack and fires. If the main batterey pack fails there is a backup, if the resulting effects such as fire or explosion take out the backup which is directly above or bring down the plane then backups are of no concequince. The engeneers at Boeing used the approach of additional protection for the backup system and a tube to vent hot gasses/ flames to the outside of the aircraft. In an outdoor substation having 3 areas seperated from on another by protective barriers each with a redundant system is technically feasable, underground this becomes more of a challenge, tipping the cost benifit ratio in favor of existing setups. New technologies and deployment strategies will need to be and are being developed to address the challenge, for example in New York City; to harden infrastructure against natural disasters.


    1. pdxracefan

      To say nothing of the age of the transformers, equipment, conductors, etc. in the vaults. Typically private utilities do not automatically upgrade equipment based on age alone.


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