Lightning-caused electrical substation damage causes Port Angeles emergency, city says
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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When five thunderstorms crept across the North Olympic Peninsula on July 12-13 — emitting lightning that produced an extended, crackling show for residents — one bolt struck a 69,000-volt city transmission line, knocking out the transformer and the entire substation near Civic Field.
That substation accounts for 14 percent of the system’s capacity, said Public Works & Utilities Director Glenn Cutler in a memo to the City Council
The substation is critical to providing power to northeast Port Angeles, including Olympic Medical Center and the city’s wastewater treatment plant, said Cutler, who is requesting the council take action before the peak season begins in November.
The seven council members will be asked to approve a resolution that ratifies a declaration of emergency signed July 26 by interim City Manager Dan McKeen regarding the substation’s failure.
The meeting is at 6 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St.
A lightning bolt knocked out electrical power for a little more than an hour to 900 customers in the early morning of July 13.
Electricity was quickly routed from other city substations to customers served by the Second and Washington streets substation, Cutler said.
But the transformer remains out of commission and it could take six to 18 months to repair or replace it, Cutler said.
Electrical loads start increasing in November, with the advent of cold weather and greater use of electricity to heat homes and businesses.
“Can we carry loads during the winter without this? Yes, we could, but it becomes less of a margin of comfort level,” Cutler said.
A severe winter could leave the system with little spare capacity, he said.
No one is without power now, city staff members say.
But that could change.
The transformer should be repaired “as soon as possible,” says a proposed resolution declaring a state of emergency that the council will be asked to ratify Tuesday.
“Power has temporarily been rerouted, but there are now single points of failure,” it says.
“Should something else fail, there could be long-term outages.”
Cutler said council approval of the declaration of emergency will allow Public Works & Utilities to expedite the repair or replacement of the transformer, though “it may not be repairable,” according to the proposed resolution.
A declaration of emergency “basically suspends the traditional method of contracting,” Cutler said, estimating the project could cost $600,000 to $900,000.
Under an emergency, contracts for the project could be signed and obligations incurred without competitive bidding, publication of notices and provisions pertaining to the performance of public work, according to the declaration signed by McKeen.
Contracts exceeding $25,000 still will require council approval.
The transformer is 35 years old, making it difficult to find parts for repair, Cutler said.
In addition, most of the industry has moved to a higher kilovolt rating than the rating of the damaged transformer, according to the resolution.
“In a way, it’s almost a situation where in a few years, we’d be looking at actually replacing that thing,” Cutler said.
“It’s on the back end of its useful life.”
Transformers must be manufactured practically from scratch, Cutler said.
“They’ve got to build it, got to manufacture it, you’ve got to tell them the size, the configuration, the voltage,” Cutler said.
“It’s not a standard thing where you can call up the Chevy guy and say, ‘I need an alternator to go in the car,’ or ‘I need a new engine.’ It’s not just waiting there to be purchased.”
A transformer takes high voltage transmitted by the Bonneville Power Administration and “steps it down” to lower voltage for distribution to city residents and other customers, Cutler said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: August 04. 2012 6:17PM