The Real Deal: PSC Investigating Underground Explosions
Updated: Wednesday, March 20 2013, 01:56 PM EDT
ALBANY - Four underground explosions have rocked the Capital Region in the past month, manhole covers and flames have been blown into the air, buildings and homes have been evacuated. National Grid says it's a rare coincidence the explosions all happened around the same time but the agency in charge of regulating the utility is now investigating. Factfinder Jennifer Lewke went to the Public Service Commission looking for the Real Deal on what it's doing to ensure the electric system beneath our streets is safe.
"We do see them (underground explosions) much more often in New York City because they have a much more massive underground system, so it's something that we do see. It's rare in this area but the fact that there has been four in such a small period of time makes us wonder if there's something we need to look at and take corrective action," says Mike Worden who is in charge of the Public Service Commission's electric safety division. Along with his team, Worden is reviewing data and maintenance history of the manholes in question to make sure all of the proper safety procedures were followed.
Utilities are required to inspect all of their manholes at least once every five years. "The stuff that's in the manhole is part of the infrastructure...you can sometimes detect things within the manhole that will be an indication that you've got a problem with the cable. You can't literally inspect the cable that goes from one manhole to another, it's physically impossible," Worden says. When asked whether the PSC has its own inspectors that confirm what the utility's inspectors report, Worden says, "we don't literally go in a manhole, if we're observing, we would ask the company to open it, we would participate in their inspection of it, monitor it, making sure what they're telling us is correct."
National Grid says corroded and/or faulty cables have been to blame for the four explosions. A National Grid spokesman tells CBS6, the company inspects all of its manhole facilities on a five-year cycle and all underground vaults annually. The manhole inspections are inspections of the manholes themselves and openings. Vaults are the underground areas under the manhole that house the electric underground cables. Inspections of the vaults include those electric cables, transformers and other electric equipment in the vault.
National Grid will spend $76 million in the next five years to do underground reliability work including cable installation and replacement.
"Even if we were to instantly replace everything underground that's in place right now, this same thing could happen tomorrow. The electric infrastructure is electric power and it does have some dangers inherit to it," says Worden.