The Power Supply Hangs On Energy Officials Urged Continued Conservation As Conditions Improved. There Were No Blackouts.

Posted: January 21, 1994

U.S. Coast Guard ice breakers yesterday cut a swath through the frozen Delaware River, enabling fuel shipments to resume to area utilities.

Frozen gas mains began to thaw.

And icy roads that prevented gasoline tankers from reaching area service stations were reopened, though many stations remained closed for lack of fuel.

But the Susquehanna nuclear power plant failed suddenly early yesterday, threatening the region's power supply for the second day running and causing energy companies to renew their plea for customers to conserve energy or face more rotating blackouts.

"We are still in a crisis situation," said Rich Wodyka, manager of system planning for the regional power pool. "But if the forecast holds and people continue their conservation measures, we expect to stabilize the situation and put people's lives back in order" by today.

Energy officials said voluntary conservation eased the drain on the region's power supply yesterday, but emergency conditions remained in effect due in part to the overnight failure of two large plants: the Unit 2 nuclear power plant at the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station in Berwick and another plant in the Washington region.

The forced shutdown of the Susquehanna plant occurred at 1:52 a.m. yesterday, sending officials of the PJM Interconnection, the power-sharing system that distributes electricity to 22 million people in the mid-Atlantic, scrambling to avoid the rotating blackouts that had occurred Wednesday. PJM called on the New York power pool, which had supplied PJM with power on Wednesday.

"We needed their help for six or seven minutes while we got everything restored on our system," said Bruce Balmat, a PJM spokesman.

Balmat said the power pool eventually found enough electricity on its system by re-juggling the supply among its eight member utilities.

Herb Woodeshick, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Power & Light, which operates the Susquehanna plant, said the shutdown was automatically tripped when cooling water in the generator reached temperatures that were too high.

Woodeshick said the problem was a failed valve in the generator's cooling system and did not involve the plant's nuclear reactor. He said the plant was expected to return to partial operation later today.

A second plant, a 400-megawatt unit of the Chalk Point plant in Prince George's County, Md., failed early yesterday but was restored before the morning's electric demand began to rise at 6, Balmat said.

Meanwhile, Baltimore Gas & Electric's Calvert Cliffs plant, which had been down for maintenance problems, returned to operation late Wednesday. Together, the two units helped to replace most of the 1,050 megawatts of power lost when the Susquehanna plant failed.

"If we hadn't gotten those back . . . the failure of the Susquehanna plant would have put us in a very tight situation," said Wodyka. "I can't say if we would have gone into rolling blackouts, but it was possible."

Wodyka and other energy and government officials called for conservation efforts to continue today.

"We're still in a precarious situation. Things can always go wrong," Wodyka said.

Lt. Gov. Mark Singel, chairman of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council, asked that all schools remain closed again today and that businesses either reduce or halt operations.

Meanwhile, the record-breaking cold brought out the Pennsylvania National Guard to help deliver fuel to area energy companies. Steve Smith, president of Philadelphia Thermal Energy Corp., which supplies heat to hospitals, universities, hotels and Center City office buildings on the so-called steam loop, said National Guard trucks delivered oil from barges stranded on the area's frozen waterways late Wednesday to help replenish a dwindling supply for its generators.

Smith said the company, which normally keeps a six-day supply of No. 6 fuel on hand, was down to a three-day reserve by Wednesday. Yesterday morning, as barges began plying the Delaware River again, Philadelphia Thermal received 15,000 barrels of oil. Smith said 25,000 more barrels were expected today.

As of late yesterday, several gasoline stations remained closed for lack of fuel.

Bud Davis, a spokesman for Sun Co., said that as many as three dozen stations had reported running out of gasoline as of yesterday afternoon.

Davis said there was no shortage of gasoline. Rather, road conditions made highways virtually impassable for the giant tankers that stations depend on to deliver fuel.

"A delivery that might take an hour is taking 10 hours," said Davis. He said deliveries were running up to two days late.

"It is not like we're short of product. . . . It's just difficult delivering," he said. "In some of the outlying areas the roads are extremely icy, and it's just not safe to have the trucks on the road."

Sun supplies gasoline to about 400 stations in the Philadelphia region, including 85 within the city.

Joy Laviola, spokeswoman for the Service Station and Automotive repair Association of Pennsylvania and Delaware, said that various reports suggested one out of 10 stations were out of gas.

"Stations are starting to reopen, but we're still playing catch-up," Laviola said.

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