Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Media reports on Washington DC area power failure seem to lack detail; incident is not reassuring

There were a lot of discrepancies in media-reported details on exactly what the damage was to the SMECO facility, near a transition point where power is transferred to PEPCO, near Mechancisville MD (in Charles County, about 25 miles south of the Beltway, and maybe about 30 miles north of historic St. Mary’s City, a bit west of MD route 5), leading to rather startling power outages in Washington DC and some eastern Maryland suburbs, all the way up to the University of Maryland in College Park and all the way down to Point Lookout.  Some reports indicate that some hardware fell from a transmission tower, some say there was a transformer explosion, and some say there was just a brush fire.  Two reports are in the Washington Post (with a vague map) and (with video) WJLA.

Ironically, the immediate area has Amish farmers. 
There were some small thunderstorms in the area Tuesday morning, and perhaps there was an isolated lightning strike, leading to structural damage and a failure hours later.  Lightning damage can happen unexpectedly with relatively minor systems, when there are no severe weather warnings. 
The resulting power surge resulted in many system breakers tripping.  That it caused so much disruption is again a warning on the vulnerability of the power grid, to both natural and hostile events.  Yet, this time (compared to a much larger 2003 event in the NE) the power industry is claiming the system worked.  It’s not reassuring.
I was in the St. Mary’s area recently, and later I’ll try to look at the area where this happened. I want to get to nearby St. Clement’s Island sometime soon. 

Update: April 10, 2015

Lexus reports that a piece of insulator fell from a tower, story here. Lightning probably could cause this to happen, even in a minor T-storm.  

Update: April 12, 2015

Visited the area yesterday.  Could see the transmission towers in the area, so this happened on one of them.  May be near Mechanicsville Road, on a side road.

Smeco also has a solar generating station. 

and HQ a few miles north in Hughesville.

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