Lightning strike darkens city, blows transformer
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
A citywide blackout last Wednesday forced businesses and schools to close their doors and left the city without a viable transformer.
Hartselle's only electrical substation on Barkley Bridge Road was affected by a series of lightning strikes Wednesday afternoon that caused a mass power outage to 5,200 Hartselle Utilities customers.
Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Cooperative, which co-owns the substation with HU, and HU employees worked throughout the evening and early morning to restore power by switching customers to a new on-site co-op transformer.
"The transformer was not hit directly," HU General Manager George Adair said. "It was an act of God and an extraordinary event, just like when an aging transformer was downed last July. It appears to be a significant loss, but Joe Wheeler will contact experts to see if it's a total loss or if it can be repaired."
The downed transformer was approximately 40 years old, which Adair said is the approximate life span for the piece of equipment. Since the incident, the entire city of Hartselle is currently running off one transformer supplied by Joe Wheeler.
"It's new and a heck of a lot more reliable," Adair said. "It's extremely unlikely that anything should happen again."
Area businesses and schools hope Adair is right.
"It (blackout) not only affected the city's revenue, but revenues of city businesses," City Clerk Rita Lee said. "The power outage had a large affect on the entire city. It's hard to say just how large right now, but I'm sure half of the city went Decatur, Priceville or other nearby towns for supper that night."
Superintendent Dr. Lee Hartsell made the decision to close Hartselle schools Thursday when a second brief power outage occurred and school system computers were downed.
"Students must attend school 175 days each school year," Hartsell said. "Therefore, the day was considered a built-in weather day."
The second power outage was caused by a wiring protection error in the new transformer.
Adair said the joint effort between HU and Joe Wheeler to restore power to Hartselle residents was well coordinated and that he was very pleased with the working relationship between the two entities.
Also, a new transformer bought by HU last December is set to be incorporated into a new substation.
"In 12 to 14 months, a stand alone, fully modern state-of-the-art substation will be complete," Adair said. "It's a $3.5 million undertaking with plenty of capacity to suit the city's needs for 30 to 40 years."