Following the recent snowstorms that hit the city, Con Edison workers were faced with a record number of smoking manholes signaling trouble below and threatening the electrical service in the surrounding areas.
In Rego Park, the Queens Chronicle nearly lost power last week when a smoking manhole threatened its power source.
The problem caused a constant surge of power that affected the computers. Con Edison responded as well as the Fire Department.
Steven Lovergine, the operation supervisor of the area and Paul Barbara, the planner, said the trouble is usually caused when the salt that is used to melt snow gets into the underground system.
Outside the Chronicle, two underground lines had to be cut and replaced. The work did not require any interruption of service.
Dave DeSanti of Con Edison said New York has one of the best electrical systems in the world.
The system is set up so “two pieces of equipment can fail on a line before customers lose service,” he noted.
The underground lines also have built-in fuses called a limiter. “These save the rest of the system from going out if there’s a problem,” DeSanti said.
Besides checking for underground problems when emergencies strike, DeSanti said the system is constantly being inspected even during routine operations.
Company splicers are trained at Con Edison’s Learning Center in Long Island City. Instructors not only teach, but they are placed on a rotation system which requires them to be out in the field learning and refreshing their skills.
Splicers must undergo a 55-day program and then do three to six months in the field. They also must pass a test with 125 questions. If they pass the examination, they then take a promotional exam that lasts for five days before they earn the title of splicer, explained Charlie Thuilot, an operations supervisor at the center.
Thuilot also noted that splicers must learn how to make joints even on lines that are no longer being installed.
Because the system is so large, older joints sometimes surface in remote areas.
“A splice is built to last 100 years,” he said. Each job is carefully recorded. “If a joint fails within five years, the Quality Assurance team analyzes the problem. The records are researched and the splicer is consulted.”
Problems can result when the insulation has been compromised, resulting in a collapsed duct. This, he said, can cause a burnout and fire. “It’s hard to detect,” DeSanti noted.
He said poly-cable insulation was used in the 70’s and it “has a tendency to fail.”
DeSanti called it “a lesson learned.” Con Edison has been changing those cables and replacing them with new solid die cables.
Most of the oldest cables, made from rubber and XLP braid have been replaced. The company used lead up until the 80’s, but DeSanti said it was not good for the environment and is also being replaced. “More than half of the system has been changed to primary EPR rubber “which is environment friendly.”
The insulation has also been changed to a layer of paper and a layer of plastic which reduces the circumference of the cable allowing more lines in a smaller area.
The lines are then compressed with more than 100 tons of pressure.
The transformer systems also require pressurized fluids to cool the connections. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the coolant when work is being done on the cables.
When trouble strikes, a red emergency truck is dispatched. If a line is bad, a jumper cable is used to keep the power flowing while the bad line is replaced.
How good is New York City’s electrical system? DeSanti said the center “has a high demand for training from out-of-state companies.”
Besides the Con Edison wires underground the company offers training for overhead wires. It also shares the underground stations with fiber optic companies.
As for those smoking manholes, winter will always be a problem, but Con Edison is constantly training personnel to fix the problem.