By Lisa Meiman
Photos courtesy of Powell Tribune
Early in the morning June 29, Electrician Foreman II Paul Davis was enjoying his normal weekend routine in his home near Powell, Wyoming.
“I was having coffee and scrolling through Facebook,” said Davis. “People in town were posting about a power outage. I saw fire trucks and flashing lights and sure enough there was a big fire at the substation.”
Nearly everyone in Powell, a city of about 6,300 residents, was without power. A breaker had failed at Vining Substation around 5 a.m. When electricians attempted to energize the breaker, the nearby oil-filled regulators exploded, causing the oil to ignite.
Thankfully, no one was hurt.
“The substation was only a mile from my house,” said Davis. “At that point, I could sit at home while the power is out, or I could go and help.”
He called Dispatch for an update, then traveled to the substation to offer his assistance.
Powell is a WAPA customer through the Wyoming Municipal Power Agency. WAPA also has meters at the substation.
Davis worked with crews from the City of Powell and neighboring Garland Light & Power to restore power by 11 a.m., but the situation was fragile. City Administrator Zack Thorington requested residents minimize power consumption to keep from overloading the substation.
The power held until about 4 p.m. when the load increased dramatically as people turned on air conditioners. This overloaded the circuits and cut power to the city again.
That’s when Davis called for Meter and Relay Specialists Joe Haskins and Nathan Whitford from Cody, Wyoming.
“The city doesn’t have the Maintenance program like we do,” said Davis. “They don’t have engineers or protection specialists. They have linemen and electricians. So we called Joe and Nathan to troubleshoot.”
Haskins was at a barbeque when the call came.
“Our job was to help them balance load and keep the circuit breakers from tripping,” said Haskins. “Powell didn’t know how to get the information on how their circuits were performing.”
Haskins and Whitford were able to quickly diagnose the problem.
“When we arrived, we could see on the control systems that only one of the remaining circuits was being used and overloading, which would cause the breaker to trip,” Haskins explained. “We recommended swapping load from one circuit to another to keep the load balanced and keep them from tripping off.”
Power was fully restored to the city around 10 p.m., but the solution was temporary. As of press time, the investigation is still underway as to why the 30-year-old breaker failed. City and utility officials suspect age played a role.
The city expressed gratitude to all who supported them in the wake of the fire and power outage, including WAPA.
“We were there to help, and I’m glad we did it,” Haskins said. “We even got a high five from a council woman for our effort.”
“It was just like any other call out,” added Davis. “It’s what we do. This is WAPA helping out a customer. Far more times we have had negative press about outages. This was a positive experience.”
“It’s rare to be called out on a weekend for meter and relay, but it happens,” concluded Haskins. “It’s part of the job; we’re always on call.”
Note: Meiman is a public affairs specialist.
The fire at the Vining Substation crippled Powell, Wyoming's, electrical grid, leaving the town
entirely without power. Crews worked through the day to restore and maintain power for
residents and businesses. (Photo by Toby Bonner, Powell Tribune)
Members of the Powell Volunteer Fire Department hose
down electrical equipment at Vining Substation. (Photo
by Don Cogger, Powell Tribune)
Bushings burn at Vining Substation June 29. (Photo by