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Mayor calls ATC response to questions about substation explosion, ‘wholly inadequate’

MADISON (WKOW) — Madison’s mayor on Friday called a response from American Transmission Company to her questions about a July electrical substation explosion, “wholly inadequate.”

Madison’s Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway sent a letter to ATC’s CEO asking them follow up questions to the findings of an investigation released by the company Wednesday.

In her letter,  she took ATC’s chief executive, Mike Rowe, to task for failing to provide her office with the company’s full report.

Rowe replied to Rhodes-Conway on Friday, writing that, “on July 19, we fell short of that objective. While no utility will ever have 100 percent reliability, we commit to continuous improvement.”

“We are taking what steps we reasonably can to avoid a similar failure elsewhere on the ATC system, taking what we now know and applying it,” Rowe wrote. “We have canvassed our fleet of transformers, looking for the same make and model, and have reviewed for similarities to the Blount transformer. We have completed a review of test results of other transformers around the system as well.”

In a news release from the mayor’s office Friday, Rhodes-Conway said the response fell short.

“The response from ATC is wholly inadequate,” Rhodes-Conway said in the news release. “They did not turn over the investigative report, and they did not even address the questions I raised in my letter. It makes you wonder what they are not telling us.  It is nice of them to offer me a meeting, but it is the public that deserves answers. We are still awaiting the full report.”

According to ATC, a component inside the Blount Street substation’s transformer failed, “generating combustible gases and resulting in a fire,” said Jim Vespalec, ATC director of asset planning and engineering.

The component was designed to regulate voltage and had been inspected, according to the company, three times in the week leading up to the explosion. The last inspection was conducted two days before the July 19 fire.

ATC said the component had been scheduled to be replaced July 22, three days after the fire.

The fire began shortly before 8 a.m. and a few minutes later triggered a second blaze at the East Campus substation. The two are linked via underground cables.

Both substations are owned by Madison Gas & Electric, but some of the equipment, including the failed component, is ATC’s responsibility.

The two fires cut power to much of Madison’s downtown and near east side on one of the hottest days of the year. Government offices, including the State Capitol, and some in Milwaukee, closed, and officials scrambled to open cooling shelters.

“Many questions remain unanswered,” Rhodes-Conway said. “What were the indicators of a significant problem with the transformer? Why didn’t ATC take a troubled transformer so close to the downtown and to a gas station out of service immediately? What decisions were made by ATC employees and supervisors that contributed to the disaster?”

A full copy of the mayor’s letter is available below.

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