Why a Cornelius power substation exploded
by Staff Writer
by Will Bryant
CORNELIUS – In a presentation before Monday night’s town board meeting, Cornelius commissioners learned about last month’s Electricities transformer fire that cut off power to nearly 2,000 residents for 19 hours.
Craig Norfolk, the electric company’s spokesman, called the Nov. 14 fire a “worst-case” scenario and spoke about how they fixed the catastrophic failure quickly.
At 1:32 a.m., a voltage regulator exploded at the electrical substation off Zion Avenue, an explosion that severely damaged the station’s transformer, Norfolk said.
That explosion marked the start of a marathon day for the utility, as workers scrambled to assess damage and find a replacement transformer.
The nearby city of Concord was able to lend a 12-year-old transformer to the town of Cornelius and helped fill out an emergency Department of Transportation application needed to transport the 35-ton, 13-feet tall by 14-feet-wide transformer across N.C. 73.
At the same time, Norfolk said utility workers were also scrambling to bring in a super crane and operator who could install the transformer.
According to Norfolk’s presentation, the crane was on site by 4 p.m., the damaged transformer was removed by 6 p.m., and the station was reenergized and by 9:02 that night.
“I’m proud of my group coming together and doing what they did in such a short time,” Norfolk said of the repair effort. Substations are usually built over a month, but workers at Electricites rebuilt half of the station in little over 19 hours, he said.
“When you look at building a substation, you plan for it and order the materials over a period of months,” Norfolk said. “It can actually take longer than that sometimes.”
The transformer damaged in the explosion is currently in South Boston, Va., being repaired and will eventually be re-installed at the Cornelius station, Norfolk said.
Norfolk recommended that the board buy the transformer from Concord for $85,000, as a back up. The board will wait to make a decision until they know more about the status of its downed transformer.
Taking into account the cost of buying the transformer from Concord, the total cost of the outage comes to $337,000, including costs for crane rental, transformer replacement and repair, the replacement of two breakers and regulators, as well as the cost of around-the-clock labor.
While Norfolk said he is proud of the way his staff reacted to the crisis, but said there were some lessons to be learned from the incident.
In his presentation, Norfolk said Electricities will better utilize their 1,760 Kilowatt generator should an energy crisis of this magnitude happen again. The powerful generator would cost significant amounts of money to run but could power emergency locations like Town Hall, Cornelius Elementary, Cashions gas station and Rite-Aid.
Norfolk also suggested that should a similar incident occur, the utility would bring in a crane and receive a Department of Transportation emergency permit faster. Both took longer than repair people originally thought.
In other board news
• Commissioners appointed six Cornelius residents to the town’s Rail Task Force, a group composed of local real estate and financial experts that will analyze the impact of the proposed Red Line commuter train. The board appointed Jeff Hare, David Gilroy, Jeff Wakeman, Wes Southern, Gary Knox and Joe Roy to the task force. While the task force was unanimously approved, commissioners have the option to add more residents if needed.
• Commissioners heard a presentation from Rodney Short of the Ada Jenkins Center on the success of the center in the town of Davidson, and how that success might also be captured in Cornelius once the renovation of the Smithville Community Center on South Hill Street is completed.
• Resident Bob Deaton spoke about his and other Cornelius residents’ frustration with the high-priced property revaluations completed by the Mecklenburg County Assessor. Mayor Jeff Tarte recommended that the board compose a letter to the county assessors that capture the frustration of many residents in the town.