IPL answers tough questions regarding system failure

(Provided Photo/IFD)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – There’s more insight into why downtown Indianapolis was rocked in August after a system failure within the IPL underground Network.

Monday, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission had its chance to ask the tough questions.

For starters, IPL is going to fork over $15 million to replace 137 network protectors in the next three to five years.

“That’s really focused not just on this event but it’s also focused on some of the art flash mitigation of personnel safety of IPL people,” said Joe Bentley, IPL Senior Vice President of Customer Operations.

A network protector is basically a breaker system that should protect the underground system and therefore prevent further damage to transformers.  One failed in August creating a short circuit which witnesses mistook for an explosion.

“It was not an explosion.  It basically was a situation where you had metal, a loud metal banging noise,” said Bentley.

In 2011 after the series of manhole explosions, the IURC commissioners noted there was a study that that showed these protectors were susceptible to corrosion.  They’re also old.  58 of them were manufactured by Westinghouse in the 1950s.

Since then only eight to 10 have been replaced.

“Can you talk about considering the fact that back then this came up as an issue why all of these haven’t been replaced yet,” asked IURC Commissioner Carolene Mays.

Bentley responded and said that, that study was appropriate for cities with higher moisture levels surrounding the protectors.  He said that doesn’t apply in the case of Indianapolis.  He also mentioned that it’s not age, but inspection of the equipment that is important to the company.

Bentley says he and his colleagues go to a conference each year held by the Eaton, the manufacturer of most of the protectors.  He mentioned that what happened in August was never mentioned as a possible failure of this type of equipment.

Daniel O’Neill is the president of O’Neill management Consultants.  He led the way in combing through IPL’s 70-page report detailing findings from the August event.

“I think that if IPL conscientiously follows through on the recommendations on their report and if the staff monitors their progress, the staff of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, monitors their progress, then I think that the people of Indianapolis can feel confident that network system downtown will be reliable and safe,” said O’Neill.

IPL says it will now work on a plan that will be unveiled in 30 days.  It will give specifics as to how and when each step of improvement will be implemented.  Those steps include the protector replacements, meetings with the fire department and mitigation, communication and inspection strategies.  They also include creating a formal method to responding to such an event.

IPL says the investment to replace the protectors will not impact customers’ bills.

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