Powering Morgan City -- How does Morgan City’s power system work?
MORGAN CITY, La. — Power flows both into and out of Morgan City in a variety of ways.
The now infamous transformer is a tie to power fed through from the Louisiana Energy and Power Authority grid through the Bayou Ramos substation owned by Cleco.
Morgan City is attached to the grid through the Cleco tie “like an umbilical cord,” Morgan City Utilities Director Bill Cefalu said.
It was that tie that was lost when the 112 megawatt transformer was destroyed in a fire and explosion June 26, 2012, at the Joseph J. Cefalu Sr. Steam Plant. That loss and two generators that had not yet undergone maintenance caused numerous power outages across the city last summer.
The destroyed 112 megawatt transformer was replaced with an aged unit that has a maximum capacity of 50 megawatts. Its exact age is unknown, but it was replaced in the 1970s when the city upgraded to the 112 megawatt transformer.
However, Cefalu said city crews try not to place more than 20 megawatts of power running through the transformer because higher power running through it causes hotter temperatures and the potential for shutdown in such aged equipment. During the winter, Cefalu said, the transformer alone supplied the city’s power needs.
The transformer being used for the last year was the one in place before the 112 megawatt transformer had been purchased. It had been mothballed after its service was discontinued but was pressed into service after the fire destroyed the newer unit.
Morgan City is a member of Louisiana Energy and Power Authority, a 19-city power organization similar to a co-op. It has a control center based in Lafayette, Cefalu said.
“Everyone pumps power into a grid system,” he said, adding that Southwest Power Pool is the regulatory body of the grid system.
The transformer, however, is not the only power source for the city.
Units 3 and 4, which kept the city’s power limping along in the weeks after last summer’s fire, often produce power.
Unit 3 is capable of generating 20 megawatts, while Unit 4 can produce 35 megawatts. Together, they have the ability to hold the city’s power at peak demand if the Cleco tie is lost. Cefalu said the peak demand usually occurs in August and September around 4 p.m. each day and averages 47 megawatts daily.
Units 3 and 4 are run on natural gas; however, they must be started by the diesel generators at the steam plant on Front Street should power from the grid be lost. The diesels generate up to 4 megawatts of power to the steam plant that the two units can then use to start. Units 3 and 4 take eight hours to start running from a cold start, Cefalu said.
The units are a generating facility that can either make power for the city’s use or send it to the Louisiana Energy and Power Authority grid, Cefalu said.
Should the city lose its Cleco tie, Units 3 and 4 must both run to power the city. If one of the units goes down in this scenario, the other will attempt to pick up the entire city’s load and then go into emergency shutdown to avoid overload. The entire city loses power.
In a different scenario, if Unit 3 or 4 goes down while the Cleco tie is running, more power is pulled from the transformer and the city usually isn’t affected.
When the power goes out, the first circuits to be brought back online, regardless of the source of the power, is emergency services such as the hospital; then hotels, restaurants and supermarkets; and, finally, residents. Cefalu said this procedure is a hurricane procedure that the city follows in the event of any city-wide outage.
Pennsylvania Transformer originally was scheduled to begin shipment of the new $1 million, 112 megawatt replacement transformer May 9. That date has been changed to June 17. Cefalu said it will take a week to get here and then another two to three weeks to replace the old transformer and make all of the connections for the new equipment.