This happened here in Springfield, IL. over the weekend.
CWLP plant damaged by explosion
By JAYETTE BOLINSKI and CHRIS WETTERICH
Published Sunday, November 11, 2007
City Water, Light and Power's main power plant was severely damaged Saturday night by a series of explosions and a spectacular fire.
The blast - one large explosion followed by about a dozen smaller ones - occurred about 6:50 p.m. No one was injured, and the oil- and wind-fed fire was extinguished by 10 p.m.
"There is a lot of damage," said Jay Bartlett, chief utilities engineer for CWLP. He estimated it will amount to "in the many millions of dollars.
"This was a very, very significant shock wave that came from this explosion," Bartlett said.
However, he said, " power plants are fixable. Our concern always is nobody's hurt."
"We're lucky," he said. "We're blessed."
The city late Saturday was operating with electricity produced by CWLP's auxiliary generators and power purchased off the nationwide grid. Aside from brief and isolated outages early in the evening, officials said, customers should see no effects from the explosion and fire.
The explosion took place in a brick building that houses the Dallman 1, 2 and 3 generators, the city's main sources of electricity,
Bartlett said the first and largest explosion was caused by an electrical failure in an undetermined component, apparently located between the Dallman 1 generator and a "step up transformer" - a unit that converts electricity from 20,000 to 69,000 volts - that caught fire.
He ruled out coal dust as a cause, as some officials had speculated early in the evening, but said engineers remained unsure late Saturday exactly what sparked the original blast.
Springfield Fire Department spokesman Bob Reside said a large section of an exterior_brick wall on the building's fourth floor collapsed into the interior of the building during the fire.
"This just shows how dangerous this has gotten because of damage to the structure," Reside said. "We have to expect further collapse."
The fire was fueled by oil leaking from damaged and blazing power transformers and boosted by a 15-mph wind that gusted up to 24 mph.
"Transformers contain oil, and it is burning and has spilled out of the transformers," Reside said about 8:30 p.m.
Eleven employees were inside the plant when the explosions occurred, but all evacuated safely. Bartlett lauded the employees for protecting and removing equipment after the blast.
There was no danger to the public from chemical fumes, and the fire posed no threat to nearby businesses or residences, Reside said.
Witnesses reported one large explosion, followed by 10 to 15 smaller ones. The explosion was followed by a steam release from the power plant, which many who heard it compared to the sound made by a jet engine.
The Dallman 1 unit, which was operating when the explosion occurred, suffered the most damage. Dallman 3, CWLP's single biggest unit, continued to operate for about 90 minutes after the explosion, until it was shut down to protect firefighters. Officials expect to know today when it can be restarted. Dallman 2 was already out of service for scheduled maintenance.
CWLP has a variety of other generators, but officials said late Saturday they will use whatever power is cheapest at any one point, whether it's produced in Springfield or has to be purchased from elsewhere, until CWLP's situation stabilizes.
The explosion will have no effect on construction of the city's $500 million new power plant being built elsewhere on the CWLP complex at Lake Springfield, Bartlett said.
Several suburban fire departments were called to staff Springfield fire stations while city firefighters responded to the CWLP incident. The Sherman and Chatham departments sent aerial trucks to the power plant after a city truck experienced mechanical problems.
Reside called the jet-like sound of steam being released a normal process for the power plant.
"It's still producing steam," Reside said of the power plant during an 8:30 p.m. briefing. "Because it's not being used for generation ... it gets vented out so that the boiler doesn't explode."
The fire department had plans in place to handle an emergency at the plant, he said, and the response was "textbook."
"Actually, it's going very well, other than unforeseen breakdowns and so forth," he said.
A hazardous materials team responded, as did the Citizens Emergency Response Team. The American Red Cross provided drinks and food for emergency workers.
Dozens of CWLP employees also came to the plant to help if needed.
Police detoured motorists away from the area of Dirksen Parkway, Taylor Avenue and Stevenson Drive during the incident, and interstate off-ramps were closed near CWLP.
While the damage was serious, Bartlett described the ultimate financial impact to CWLP as low.
"This plant's insured," he said. "We'll certainly have some deductibles to pick up."
Jayette Bolinski can be reached at 788-1530 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Chris Wetterich can be reached at 788-1523 or email@example.com.
Ever hear of a set of solar panels exploding? Or how about a China syndrome meltdown?