Memphis Light Gas and Water’s top brass stood before the Arlington town board Monday night to explain how the utility company continues to recover from substation damages that affected tens of thousands of customers in Lakeland and Arlington.
In the understatement of the night, MLGW CEO Jerry Collins opened by saying, “At 12:30 a.m. on Monday, July 11, we had some fireworks.”
In fact, a catastrophic failure at Substation 68 destroyed the breaker, one transformer and the control house. A brilliant blue-white light filled the sky, followed by an explosion that belched an orange fireball high above the treetops.
The unprecedented damages to company equipment knocked out power to virtually all of Lakeland and Arlington, Collins said.
MLGW had power back on in about four hours by drawing upon Substations 84 (at Old Brownsville Road) and 85 (at U.S. 64). That didn’t resolve all voltage issues, and customers began calling that afternoon and the next day.
“We began acquiring and installing voltage regulators as fast as we could to augment the power that we were pulling from Substation 84, which is near Old Brownsville Road and New Brunswick, and Station 85, which is down on Highway 64,” Collins said.
During the week that followed, residential customers curtailed their power use during peak hours, and MLGW personnel performed 50+ switching operations to send as much power from those two substations to Lakeland and Arlington as possible.
The next week delivered soaring temperatures, making power usage spike and increasing the chances of rolling blackouts just to protect equipment from overload. MLGW asked industrial customers to be patient, keep using their generators and stay off the grid. MLGW promised reimbursements for the cost of running the generators from 8 am. Monday, July 18, until Substation 68 was back in service. That happened two weeks earlier than the initial Aug. 8 target date. Long-term repairs are expected to take up to six months.
Last week, MLGW cancelled the request for Arlington and Lakeland citizens to watch their power usage.
When a board member asked if the accident was preventable, Collins said, “First of all, we don’t know what caused it, and whatever did cause it got blown up. And there’s no evidence left as to what caused it. So it’s hard to say we could have kept it from happening if we don’t know what caused it to start with.”
Collins said MLGW also has been upgrading security at its substations and will continue to do so “basically because of the world we live in.”