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Safety Concern: substation de-energized when crews work near it

When city power crews are working at the existing substation in the Slatestone area, they “de-energize” it for safety reasons.

During the March 21 meeting of the Washington Electric Utilities Advisory Board, Jeff Clark, the city’s electric utilities director, and Bob Thomas with Progressive Engineering, told the board the existing Slatestone substation presents a hazard when energized. Progressive Engineering is working with the city on the Slatestone project.

After Thomas provided an update of the project, Stewart Rumley, board chairman, directed a comment to Clark and Thomas. “ I have a question. We were told at the last meeting that the substation was unsafe,” Rumley said.

Thomas replied, “The current substation is … ,” then Rumley interjected: “Unsafe.” To which Thomas replied, “Yes, sir.” Rumley continued: “A danger to life and property; a danger to life and property.” Thomas said, “I would say so.”

Rumley added, “We put the 32 tie line in front of it. We put the Slatestone Road rebuild in front of it. Yet, it’s unsafe. That was my major question: is if it was unsafe, why did we put these things in front of fixing it?”

Clark said that after he noticed several things at the aging substation, he became concerned with potential safety issues. Clark said he and Thomas recently inspected the substation, concluding there were safety concerns that needed to be addressed. Initial concerns first surfaced about a year ago, he said. More recent concerns caused him to act, Clark said.

“That’s when I deemed it unsafe to work on, and that’s why we de-energize it whenever we are doing anything there,” Clark said.

“I understand. You can safely work on it even though it’s unsafe,” Rumley said.

“You can safely work on it when it’s de-energized,” Clark said.

When city crews are working at the project site, their safety is of primary concern, Clark noted.

Washington Electric Utilities continues to upgrade and/or build new components of its system, from constructing new substations to replacing aging equipment.

The substation project is progressing, Thomas told the board. “We are in the process right now of putting together the specifications to construct that substation.” Thomas told the board the purchase of materials needed for the project is underway.

Asked if the new substation would need the various equipment planned for installation there, Thomas said that equipment, even if its capabilities are not fully utilized right away, and the substation’s design would allow the facility to expand to meet future power demands. “It just fits the package,” Thomas said.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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