By Pamela Jackson
“Until a person walks into a room or office and flips the switch, he or she does not think twice about electricity,” said David Dauro, utilities supervisor, Public Works Department, Installation and Environment Division. “No one ever thinks about electricity until it goes off.”
Dauro said his high voltage team’s primary responsibility is to make sure all customers on the base have electricity all the time. High voltage means electricity comes in on overhead lines and filters down to all things electrical on base.
“Normal electricity comes in from Georgia Power to the overhead power lines at 115,000 electrical volts, then it goes through a transformer which drops it down to the voltage that we use here, which is 12, 470 volts at our main substation,” Dauro said. “From there, it splits and goes in six different directions via sub-breakers, which then feed other sub-stations throughout the base.”
Dauro said there is one circuit dedicated to Maintenance Center Albany, which is divided to their 10 sub-stations at 12,470 volts each, so if for some reason power is lost in one location, it does not affect the entire area.
“Each substation there has transformers which drops electricity down further to 120/208 volts which is used for lighting inside the buildings. The voltages start off high and the transformers reduce them down to usable electricity,” he said. “We use 277/480 volts for machinery.”
Dauro and Terry Shiver, high voltage electrician, Public Works, I&E, gave a few examples of electrical outages and their causes. They even keep a ‘trophy’ case containing parts and pipes that have caused recent outages on base.
Holding up a damaged part, Dauro said, “There are three wires that go inside this Orangeburg pipe that was underground for 40 or 50 years and has corroded and fallen apart over the years. Today we use PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) pipe, but years ago they used a cloth-like pipe like this. Inside this pipe were three wires that carried a combination of 12,470 volts. This part was accidentally damaged and left MCA without power for three hours Jan. 12. This one mistake was very costly in both man hours and repairs.”
Shiver said this type of electrical configuration goes throughout the entire base.
Both explained when these parts and devices blow up, they can take out electricity parts of buildings or throughout the entire base.
“Some of the more common occurrences of power outages on base are caused by age, woodpeckers, squirrels, raccoons, lightning and mother nature,” Shiver said. “Cats, snakes and possums are bad on the underground transformers, especially in the winter because they are attracted to the heat.”
Another example given was the power outage in the housing area that caused by the ice storm Feb. 10.
“The rain and ice built up on the limbs, causing them to fall on the power lines, which caused the circuit breaker to trip. This resulted in a power outage in the housing area for nearly eight hours,” Dauro said. “There were some limbs that really needed to be cut back, so we spent several hours trimming limbs and connected a back up circuit to restore power. We are now doing massive cutting on the nearly 20 miles of limbs and trees in the right of ways that need to be cleared.”
Shiver said a mix of rain and ice can cause limbs to bend and break whether they needed trimming or not, so while the circuit is down for repairs, they will continue clearing spaces and cutting trees back so this problem won’t happen again.
Dauro said there are nearly 300 manholes on the base and there are cables that go through the manholes, then splices up to the buildings for power.
“Every manhole has at least three T-body splices. Over the years moisture gets in and it deteriorates or gets struck by lightning,” he said. “When they blow up in the manhole, we get a phone call telling us power is out in the building. Based on a map we keep of all electrical areas on the base, we can generally tell where the circuit is that went out and where the main feeders and substations are. Most of the time, the problem is in the manhole, which requires more extensive work.”
Dauro said there are also multiple generators at critical buildings around the base to restore power quickly when it is needed.
“We have emergency backup circuits around the base that allow us to re-route electricity to get nearly 80 percent of the buildings back up should a massive power outage occur,” he said. “My goal is to replace every breaker, circuit and switch on this base over the next six or seven years by bringing it up to date.”
Dauro said a power outage at MCA can send nearly 2,200 people home at an estimated cost of $153,000 an hour, labor hours and production, if something goes wrong.
“When we are testing for problems underground, it is often noisy during the day due to the traffic and other work occurring on base. We may have to test a three-mile stretch to find the problem, and there have been a few instances where we have had to pull nearly all of the manhole covers on the base to find a problem, which can take a lot of man hours. The hardest part is finding the problem – fixing it is not that bad,” he said. “On a quiet evening when nothing is going on, it is easier to find it.”
Pointing to two binders, Dauro said he has been at I&E a little more than two years and there have been several hundred power outages. He and his team often work after hours and on weekends so that when personnel come to work on Monday, they have power.
“Ninety-five percent (of the power outages) are scheduled and planned to replace old parts and equipment and to perform upgrades and maintenance. We work almost every weekend while everyone is home asleep or enjoying their weekend, we are shutting the base down and nobody knows it,” Dauro said. “We do it to cause the least amount of disruption to our customers, so we work a lot of Sundays and holidays. This is a dangerous job that can cause severe injury or death, but our job is to power the base for our customers and personnel. That is why we are here.”
Fred Broome, director, I&E said the base has reliable electrical power, but occasionally there are power outages often caused by weather and/or aging infrastructure.
“When the lights go out, our HV crew is called into action. The efforts of these unsung heroes day in and day out, their maintenance of the system and their response to emergency outages is nothing short of incredible,” Broome said. “Most of the population here has no idea who these guys are, but I can tell you that the knowledge and commitment of this small crew is absolutely off the charts!”
Broome candidly suggested next time the lights go out for a short time, remember the HV crew is out there doing their very best to make sure outages are kept to a minimum.
“We should all be grateful to have such dedicated professionals supporting us, so we in turn can support the warfighters,” he said.
David Dauro, utilities supervisor, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, studies a map that outlines all electrical components on base, both overhead and underground.