Sensor trips city’s power off
Bruce Gagneaux works by light from an open door at Taylors Industrial Specialties Inc. of Morgan City this morning after a power outage shut down the lights. Gagneaux is grinding parts for a hose. (The Daily Review Photo by Courtney Darce)
A safety switch detected an electrical problem and opened up, which shut off the city’s electrical supply from Cleco this morning, Bill Cefalu, city utilities director, said.
Within about 15 minutes of the 7:40 a.m. outage, the safety switch was closed and power was restored to most of the city, Cefalu said. A problem remained with restoring power to areas of the city fed off of the Second Street feeder until a crew was able to manually restore power there, he said. Electricity returned to those affected areas shortly after 8 a.m.
“The system saw something somewhere that caused it to open,” Cefalu said. “Something signaled the instrumentation that there was some kind of fault, and it cut us off from the Cleco main feed,” Cefalu.
One of two things is usually the culprit in a city-wide power outage, Mayor Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi said. It could either be the Cleco main feed or a problem at the steam plant. The city was able to determine quickly the power was not associated with the steam plant, Grizzaffi said.
The city’s safety system protects the city from damaging problems coming from the Cleco main feed and blowing out city transformers; it also works in reverse and protects Cleco from problems originating in Morgan City, Cefalu said.
Because the energy demand is low right now, the steam plant was not running, Cefalu said. Workers there have the responsibility to coordinate electricity with Cleco and they called the energy company when they realized the city was disconnected.
Once they ascertained there was not a problem coming from Cleco, they contacted Cefalu who instructed them to bring the transformers back online and close the switch that had been opened; thereby resuming the connection and restoring electricity to most of the city.
“Once the main feed was re-established, half the city came back up automatically and we had crews out in the field working to get the rest of the city back online,” Grizzaffi said
After electrical service was restored to most of the city, Cefalu said he sent workers out to investigate why a small part of the city remained without power. They discovered a tripped breaker had not been returned into service for the Second Street feeder. Once that was corrected, the entire city had electricity again, he said.
An electrocuted squirrel was discovered on a breaker in the substation which may have caused the chain of events that happened in milliseconds, Cefalu said.
“The electrocuted squirrel could have caused the city’s instrumentation to see an electrical anomaly with the potential to cause problems” and opened the switch that shut the city off from Cleco, he said.
“All of these breakers and switches are in place for safety. All the devices are there to protect the system,” Cefalu said.
The city has a computerized flag system that indicates what problems exist in the system. The utilities department is in the process of examining the flags to determine what the system saw, Cefalu said.
The electrical breakers in the system are designed to allow their sensitivity to be adjusted up or down as needed, Cefalu said. When workers are in the area, the tolerance is set low so as to protect workers, he said. It is possible that a breaker’s tolerance somewhere in the system was too low and needs to be adjusted upward.
“We will be checking all the settings and sensitivities,” Cefalu said.
A definitive answer cannot be known until the instrumentation flags are reviewed and interpreted later today, Cefalu said.