NYPA says it's making 'thorough assessment of circuit-breaker malfunction' that caused explosion in Massena last week
Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 5:32 pm

MASSENA—The New York Power Authority will undertake “a thorough assessment of a circuit-breaker malfunction” in Massena last Saturday that was caught on video camera showing a ball of fire rising into the sky.

The explosion just came to light today.

The explosion was at about 2 p.m. Saturday, March 3, at the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project. The Power Authority said in a statement this afternoon that the explosion led to a fire in the project’s switchyard when electrical insulating fluid was ignited after the equipment failure.

Video of the explosion can be seen on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pl7TaWy9Qis

The rest of NYPA’s statement follows:

The Massena Fire Department was on-site within minutes of being notified and extinguished the fire by 4 p.m. There were no injuries and the area community was never in any danger. NYPA employees followed the St. Lawrence project’s emergency response protocols in their actions following the incident.

The St. Lawrence-FDR project was at close to full power at the time of the occurrence. While the circuit-breaker failure led to temporary loss of a portion of the facility’s generating output, power service to the surrounding area was never affected. The hydroelectric project resumed normal operations later Saturday.

The Power Authority immediately notified the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that there was a release of insulating fluid and that it was contained to the 18-acre switchyard site, along with scattered debris. There is no indication that any fluid was discharged into the St. Lawrence River.

Representatives of the DEC have visited the switchyard site and NYPA is coordinating the clean-up of the fluid with the agency in accordance with DEC requirements. The U.S. Coast Guard also has inspected the site. NYPA also notified the New York Independent System Operator, which operates New York State’s bulk electricity grid, and the Northeast Power Coordinating Council, responsible for promoting and improving the reliability of the bulk power system in Northeastern North America.

Saturday’s occurrence may have been precipitated by high winds that led to an electrical fault and the automatic operation of several circuit breakers to isolate the fault from the power system. One of the circuit breakers did not operate as designed.

Circuit breaker failures are not an uncommon occurrence in the electric utility industry. The damaged breaker has been isolated from its circuit and is being removed.

NYPA’s review of the events leading to the breaker failure includes analyzing all related data and records. In conjunction with NYPA technical staff, outside experts with knowledge of circuit breakers have been contacted to support the Authority’s analysis for determining whether there are any corrective measures necessary for the remaining in-service circuit breakers.