Power Plant Concerns Mount For Berlin

BERLIN – Berlin’s electric plant cannot cover the entire town’s power needs during a blackout, and at times has trouble dealing with essential areas like schools, the Berlin Mayor and Council learned Tuesday night.

“We no longer have enough generation to cover the town’s load,” Joe Davis, Berlin’s finance and operations manager, informed the council. “We do have the capacity to restore portions of the load.”

The power outage caused by a major storm on Monday, May 12 demonstrated another weakness of the system. When the Berlin power plant staff attempted to bring power back to a portion of the town that day, particularly the schools and hospital, the three generators could not handle the load from just part of the town being brought online, to the point of burning out the motor on generator number four.

The sections of the town to be brought online in that scenario need to be rethought, said Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary.

“We have to revisit the Decatur Farms area,” said Davis. “All of those homes out there are all electric. It wiped us out.”

Berlin is divided into three circuits, Davis said, and each circuit has eight to 10 switches. The load carried at each switch varies.

“We definitely need to sectionalize the circuits,” Davis said.

Staff needs to measure the load at each switch, which should take about a month, before reapportioning the circuits into sections.

Interim Mayor Gee Williams suggested the electric plant staff reassess the loads every quarter.

“Changes in the town are happening at a more rapid rate,” Williams said.

The town also needs to look at the fairest way to distribute power in the event of a blackout on the Delmarva Power lines, Williams said.

At the moment, the power plant is faced with some expenses, Davis said. The replacement of the motor in generator number four will cost $17,000 and that includes using the motor from generator number three, which failed catastrophically some years ago, as a replacement.

“Even if the power plant was at full capacity, we could not handle the town’s full load,” Davis cautioned. 

Berlin will also seek a quote on repairing the failed generator.

“The biggest expense is the variation in copper costs because they have to rewind the generator,” Davis said.

“So we’re talking big bucks,” said Williams.

The cost of the repairs will wipe out the insurance settlement the town received after the failure of generator number three, Council member Paula Lynch observed.