Blown transmitter causes thousands in area to lose power
THE SANTA CLARA
April 2, 2014
Students found themselves in the dark and unable to charge their phones on Tuesday night, when a campus-wide blackout occurred at approximately 6 p.m.
The power outage was caused by a squirrel that made contact with a live conductor in a Silicon Valley Power substation, which provides power to Santa Clara residents.
The blackout, which also affected other parts of the city, impacted 5,420 customers of Silicon Valley Power.
“We insulate most of our conductors with red tape, but this was an unusually large squirrel and got into a spot that was not insulated and caused electricity to start arcing,” said Larry Owens, customer services manager of Silicon Valley Power.
Contact from the animal damaged one of the two substation transformers, which then caused the other transformer to automatically shut down.
“The transformer right next to it was not physically damaged but saw unusual power flows, so the protection devices opened up on that transformer, and that caused another 3,000 customers to lose power,” Owen said.
Power was restored to the majority of campus at approximately 7:30 p.m., after Silicon Valley Power re-energized one of the two affected transformers.
The University Villas did not receive power until roughly 9 p.m., when the company was able to reroute electricity from the damaged transformer.
Three people were trapped in elevators in Graham and Nobili Residence Halls during the power outage, according to Chris Shay, assistant vice president for University Operations.
It took roughly four to five minutes to remove people from the elevators.
Campus food services ceased operations as a result of the power outage, and all classes and campus activities scheduled for Tuesday evening were cancelled, according to Shay.
“Several of the components suffered from the arc damage, which is super hot and actually melts and destroys insulators, so about half of that transformer’s terminals will have to be rebuilt,” Owen said.
While the damaged transmitter is being repaired, it will not cause additional power outages, according to Owen.
“Our system is designed to be able to handle switching customers to other feeders,” Owen said.
The last campus-wide power outage occurred about five to six years ago, according to Shay.
Contact Sophie Mattson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.