Transformer equipment failure leads to widespread power outages in Breckenridge
September 14, 2018
Breckenridge's emergency services had their hands full on Thursday evening after a series of equipment failures in transformers spurred sporadic power failures throughout the town, along with two small grass fires.
While the problem has since been remedied, with power coming back on by around 8 p.m., officials still aren't sure what initially caused the problem.
"It can be anything from just a bad or aging piece of equipment," said Michelle Aguayo, a spokesperson for Xcel Energy. "We don't have any idea right now as to what caused the failure."
At around 5:10 last night an equipment malfunction inside a transformer on the corner of White Cloud Drive and Sunrise Point Drive caused a power outage in the area. In order to track down the malfunctioning equipment, Xcel began a process called "switching." This helps to explain the patchy and widespread power outages around town, as Xcel was forced to systematically shut off power in different areas to isolate the failure.
"We had to find exactly where that problem was," said Aguayo. "In order to do that we had to manually switch our electric load from one piece of equipment to another to try and track down that problem. In doing so, when you're making those switches you're basically taking customers out, and then you have to bring them back in. We had to do that for a number of customers, which is why people were seeing power outages, and possibly more than one as we were trying to isolate the problem."
The exact extent of the power outages is currently unknown, though they were seen throughout Breckenridge, and even north of the town.
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Aguayo said that Xcel received more than 230 calls reporting outages, though the actual number of persons affected is expected to be much larger.
The initial outage was the least of the problems for Xcel and emergency services in town. Sometime shortly after the first outage, two other transformers — one on Boreas Pass Road near the ice arena and another on Broken Lance Drive — experienced equipment failures. One transformer suffered an arcing incident toward the ground, while another exploded resulting in two small grass fires, according to Jim Keating, fire chief at the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District.
Red, White & Blue had two crews respond to the fires, and they were doused within about 15 minutes of the initial calls, Keating said. While the cause of the chain reaction that caused the two other failures is also currently unknown, Aguayo noted that it's possible those pieces of equipment were overloaded due to the switching.
"The grid is all interconnected," Aguayo explained. "As our crews are taking power out, they're putting it back somewhere else. Most of the time you're not going to have any issues. This time they had some issues related to that … it's a possibility that because of the switching they could have been overloaded. There are safeguards in the grid to try and prevent that. In this case they didn't. We don't have notes on that particular part of the problem."
Aguayo said that there aren't any ongoing issues within the system.
While equipment failures aren't considered uncommon, the scope of the power outages and the resulting fires are more rare.
"I haven't seen anything really to this extent," said Keating. "It's not unusual to have a transformer blow over or start a fire. But to have two fires occurring from an electrical issue was very unusual for us."
Aside from the fires, which firefighters dealt with quickly and without incident, the power outages caused a number of other issues for emergency workers. The fire department had to perform at least four elevator extrications in the Peak 8 area for individuals trapped inside after the power outage. In addition, the outage caused the electronic door locks at the Crystal Peak Lodge to malfunction, effectively locking people in or out until firefighters could open the doors.
Keating said that all four of Red, White & Blue's stations responded to issues related to the outages, about 15 personnel total. Officers from the Breckenridge Police Department also responded to related calls.
Keating noted that there were a "considerable" number of auto-alarm drops as a result of the power outages. While auto-alarms being triggered in a situation like this are considered low priority by the department, every one had to be followed up on afterward. Firefighters from Red, White & Blue spent almost five hours in all putting out fires, performing elevator extrications and following up on auto-alarms.
Power was returned in waves between 7:30 and 8 p.m. Keating said that no other fires or injuries were reported.
"This is what we call an all hazards response," said Keating. "We were able to take care of it with the resources we had ready to respond. … We staff for things like the incident last night. It's times like that where you really need to have the personnel. Any one of those issues could have escalated pretty quickly. So it's a good feeling to know that when you prepare for something like this, that when it actually happens you're able to effectively protect the public. And that's what happened last night."