Westar Plant To Be Down 8 Weeks After Fire

By: Jared Cerullo Email
By: Jared Cerullo Email

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Monday, December 3, 2012

New information today on the massive fire that destroyed a huge electric transformer at the Westar Energy power plant near Colwich last week.

Today, Westar says the Gordon Evans power plant will be down for at least two months to make repairs. Surprisingly, customers should see very little impact.

The transformer sends out hundreds of thousands of volts to the grid. It failed early Wednesday, causing a massive explosion. Despite all of that, Westar says your lights should remain on, but the disaster will likely cost the company $5-8 million to repair.

"That particular night, there were three operators on site," explained Westar Executive Director of Gas Power Plants, Doug Mericle.

Those workers heard and felt a blast just before 2:00 am Wednesday. The unit was in use, causing concern about how to handle spraying water on a transformer putting out hundreds of thousands of volts of electricity.

"In no way would we let anybody squirt water on a transformer like this if it was still energized," Mericle said. "When this actually exploded, all of our safeties worked like they were supposed to and took all the electricity away from the event."

The plant has a spare transformer that will be put into use for the time being. Westar uses this plant near Colwich mostly during peak summer months when air conditioners strain the system.

"The gas plants are our peaking facilities and we see most of their use during the summertime, so we are fortunate in that aspect," Mericle said. "When it gets into the bitter cold winter months, we'll rely on these units, as well."

The company is thankful that none of the employees were injured. Workers have already begun the task of trying to figure out what went wrong in an effort to prevent it from happening again. Plus, other equipment that was damaged will have to be shipped to the site.

"Six to eight weeks," Mericle explained. "It wasn't just the transformer that was damaged. There was a little bit of associated equipment. The good news is, we had a spare transformer on site here in case something like this were to happen."

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