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Sun Valley's Nightmare of a Dark Christmas

Christmas 2009 left the community realizing the area's sole transmission line, which failed due to a massive ice storm, was inadequate in case of emergency.


A massive power outage swept through the Wood River Valley on Christmas Eve 2009, shutting down Sun Valley's ski lifts, blacking out the Sun Valley Resort and forcing nearly 17,000 people to open their presents and share Christmas dinner by candlelight.

Sun Valley's 2009 black Christmas nightmare sent much of the Wood River Valley into a tizzy, with much of the community realizing the area's sole 138,000-volt transmission line, which failed due to a massive ice storm, was inadequate in case of emergency.

According to Idaho Power spokeswoman Lynette Standley, discussions about redundancy predated the blackout.

She added that two years prior to the Christmas blackout, in 2007, Idaho Power worked with a community advisory committee to craft the Wood River Electrical Plan, designed to reduce the risk of unplanned outages.

"That's an expensive project," Standley said.

An estimated project cost for a second 138,000-volt line from Hailey to Ketchum is approximately $30 million, with overhead lines stretching from the Wood River substation in Hailey to the St. Luke's Medical Center, then underground through Ketchum and Sun Valley.

"Blaine County, Ketchum and Sun Valley would have to pay for that underground cost," said Standley, who added the underground cost would be approximately $2 million, with the city of Ketchum on the hook for the bulk of the expense. "Blaine County and Sun Valley have accepted our most recent applications. Ketchum is still reviewing their funding piece."

In a best-case scenario, Idaho Power said construction could occur through 2018 and the second line could join Idaho Power's grid in 2019. Meanwhile, Aimee Christensen, executive director of the Sun Valley Institute for Resilience and member of her community's advisory committee, said redundancy through a second power line is only one part of an overall solution.

"All of us want an improvement to reliability but we've been trying for two years to have a conversation about more local power generation," she said. "I would argue we should be having both conversations: a second, redundant line and more renewable energies and local power generation coming into Idaho Power's grid."