CO - Computer Glitch Takes Plant Offline for 19 Hours, Strain on Power : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Utilities nearly had to pull plug

Source: The Gazette Publication date: 2000-06-08

For the second day in a row, Colorado Springs nearly suffered a major disruption to its power supply, due in part to heavy demand for electricity caused by the hot weather. Wednesday, homes and businesses cranking up fans and air conditioners may have contributed to a snafu that shut down pollution control equipment at the Martin Drake plant downtown and nearly forced part of the coal-burning plant to stop producing power.

Utilities officials weren't yet clear on exactly why the breakdown occurred.

"It could have resulted in a large outage," said Stacy Schubloom, a Springs Utilities spokeswoman.

Tuesday, a computer glitch at the Ray Nixon plant near Fountain took the plant off-line for more than 19 hours. That forced Springs Utilities to draw power from its other plants and buy extra power off the western grid, which connects electrical plants around the region.

Had that problem continued, Utilities officials could have been forced to impose rolling blackouts.

Wednesday's problems will be investigated by Utilities officials, but it appeared to be connected to a breakdown in the internal power supply that controls a filter system that keeps coal ash from going into the air, according to Tim Koehler, plant supervisor at Drake.

Tuesday's incident began when the Ray Nixon Power Plant, which is powered by burning coal, went off line about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday. Workers were able to get it back online at 10:56 a.m., but it shut off again about a half-hour later and stayed off until 9 p.m.

Officials said computer problems were to blame, and that it took most of the day to solve them.

To meet high demand for power on the warm June day, Utilities drew power from its other plants.

It wasn't enough, though, so Utilities was forced to buy about 200 megawatts off the western grid. Other power plants across the West also were having difficulties, which restricted the regional power supply.

Left with a power shortage, Utilities officials began to worry about providing power for Wednesday's peak demand, expected to be about 650 megawatts because of daytime temperatures that reached 90 degrees.

The city's highest peak demand - 685 megawatts - occurred in July 1998 on a 90-degree day. One megawatt is equal to a million watts of electricity and is enough to power about 400 homes for a day.

If the Nixon plant had not been running by Wednesday and not enough was available on the power grid, the utilities department would have had to consider extreme measures: reducing the power used by city-owned operations and major industrial customers.

If the problem persisted, officials would have asked residential customers to cut back by turning off lights and appliances like air conditioners.

Finally, the utilities department could have imposed "rolling blackouts," which would periodically cut power around the city in timed intervals.

The city never has resorted to rolling blackouts. And Utilities was far from imposing them, said spokesman George Dushan.

"We didn't have to get that far," he said. "If all else fails, you wouldn't have rolling blackouts without the community being aware of them."

- Edited by Jim Borden; Headline by Andy Obermueller


-- (, June 09, 2000

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