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Submitted photo Mario Data shared this photo of smoke coming from a transformer fire at Hennepin Power Station late this morning.
By Craig Sterrett and Lauren Blough NewsTribune staff
HENNEPIN — A team of Dynegy engineers are in Putnam County today assessing damage to the Hennepin Power Station after a fire late Tuesday morning.
Hennepin, Granville and other Putnam County fire departments were called to Dynegy Hennepin Power Station just before 11 a.m. after reports of a “big fire” in the transformer yard or switch yard.
“Nobody got hurt, not any of us, or any of the plant workers,” said Daryel Petersen, Hennepin’s fire chief.
The transformer fire forced the plant to shut down Unit 2 of the two-unit power generating station, said Katy Sullivan, public relations for Dynegy in Houston, Texas.
Sullivan said the transformer that burned caught fire in the transformer yard, where energy from the generating unit is connected to the grid, or transmission system.
Precautions were taken before firefighters began battling the blaze.
“There was no power, it wasn’t energized,” Petersen said.
Petersen said when firefighters did leave the scene there was no indication of what started the fire.
“I’d assume the power company will be trying to figure that out for a while,” Petersen said.
Dynegy employees were also unsure of the cause but had bigger concerns to make sure everything is safe.
“We’ll do an investigation into the cause of the fire,” Sullivan said. This morning, she said she does not know when the unit will be able to brought back online. She said Dynegy will want to make sure all the generating equipment is OK.
Other than the transformer that burned, there was only minor damage to some of the surrounding equipment, Petersen said.
“The initial fire was a flash fire, so the main fire was out after a few minutes,” Petersen said. He added that the firefighters’ main concern was keeping everything cooled down. Seen and heard Smoke and noise from the fire could be seen and heard a mile or more away, said Shelly Zywica, who lives across the street from Lake DePue on the other side of the Illinois River from the power plant.
“I was in my kitchen and all I could see was thick black smoke coming up from behind the trees,” Zywica said.
She said she heard a pop and a boom, then a sound somewhat like a whale exhaling, only quite amplified. Then the sound was gone and eventually the smoke color changed from black to gray.
“It sounded like when you light a propane torch — only times that by ten thousand,” she said.
Petersen said that the transformers at the plant are filled with oil and that the oil inside the transformer was what was burning.
Before noon, smoke no longer was visible. By 12:20 p.m., firefighters were returning to fire stations.
Unit 2 at the plant has a capacity of 215 megawatts. Each megawatt can power 700-800 homes, so theoretically on a hot day with high demand from air conditioning use, that unit can generate enough electricity to power more than 150,500 homes.
Unit 1 is smaller, with a 70-megawatt capacity, Sullivan said.
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