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Explosion shuts down Ludlow power plant

Thursday, October 5, 2000 By JOSIE HUANG

LUDLOW  A high-voltage electric transformer explosion on Monday has forced the temporary halt of operations at the Stony Brook power plant of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co., said a spokesman for the public corporation which markets electricity to 25 municipal utilities.

Because of the problem, the company is not providing power to Chicopee, Holyoke, Westfield, Russell and Chester or any of the municipalities that buy electricity generated at the company's plant on Moody Street.

MMWEC spokesman David Tuohey said the company is helping member utilities adjust to what little impact the power outage has had.

None of the municipalities rely entirely on power supplied by MMWEC, he said.

Also, "with weather being the way that it's been, there's not a high demand for electricity," he said.

Tuohey said he could not divulge which towns depended most heavily on the plant's resources, calling the information "sensitive."

Depending on the type of service agreement a town has with the company, the town may have to find its own replacement power, Tuohey said.

Tuohey added that many of the towns "have sufficient resources under contract already (with other companies) where they wouldn't have to go out and replace that power they have under contract from Stony Brook."

On Monday, a transformer, one in a bank of four in the plant's outdoor switchyard, exploded and caught on fire at approximately 4:20 p.m., the Ludlow Fire Department reported. The fire was contained to the single transformer and declared extinguished on Tuesday at 10:23 a.m.

Plant personnel, under the supervision of the state Department of Environmental Protection, are cleaning up the mixture of transformer oil and water that deluged the switchyard, according to Tuohey.

"Once we get the switchyard back in order, we should be able to start running again," Tuohey said.

Tuohey added, "I'm not sure when that's going to happen."

The plant houses five gas turbines capable of producing 520 megawatts when running at full load.

Electricity leaves the plant and travels about a quarter of a mile to the switchyard. The transformers there pump the electricity into a network of transmission lines throughout New England, Tuohey said. Fear of electrocution loomed heavily in firefighters' minds as they fought the blaze. Firefighters did not physically approach the blaze until "close to midnight" when MMWEC crews determined that power in the switchyard had been shut off, said Ludlow Fire Capt. Mark H. Babineau, who served as commander for part of the fire.

Before that time, firefighters avoided the risk of electrocution by using unmanned hose streams, Babineau said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, he said. No one was reported injured.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 05, 2000

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