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OWTU: T&TEC ignored fire warning

Commission denies awareness about Westmoorings substation hazard

By BY ANIKA GUMBS CCN Senior Multimedia Investigative Journalist

The Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) is insisting the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) was aware of the fire hazard at the Westmoorings substation since September last year but the utility is denying it.  

 Fire broke out at the substation on January 22, plunging a wide area in west Trinidad into darkness.

T&TEC’s general manager, Kelvin Ramsook, has dismissed claims that the State enterprise was forewarned about the potential disaster.

Sources, however, told the Sunday Express that only three weeks ago, the commission held a joint Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) meeting with representatives of the OWTU and the issue of poor maintenance of the substation and the potential danger it posed was brought to the forefront.

The union’s branch representative, Peter Burke, yesterday confirmed to the Sunday Express that the meeting took place.

Burke said arrangements were not made to have the substation maintained in a timely manner.

“The transmission division is undermanned  and no provisions are being put in place to ensure the substations are properly maintained.

The accident was waiting to happen. Proper measures are not being put in place,” Burke said.

Burke said the matter relating to the Westmoorings substation was brought to the attention of T&TEC but noting was done to prevent the fire from occurring.

“For sometime, we have been complaining to T&TEC  but they continue to turn a blind eye to HSE matters and now there is a problem with operational and maintenance matters.

“The issue here is that a fundamental piece of equipment as a transformer  was not being maintained properly.

“The fire was absolutely avoidable. The management of T&TEC was warned about the fire hazard,” Burke said.

The substation, the Sunday Express learned, is equipped with two 66/32 kilovolt (KV) transformers to feed electricity to Westmoorings, Diego Martin, Glencoe, Petit Valley, Cocorite and surrounding areas.

However, the Sunday Express was told by sources that due to poor maintenance one of the transformers caught fire.

The Sunday Express learned that on September 29 an oil circuit breaker dielectric test and a polarisation index were conducted at the substation by T&TEC officials.

  A transmission maintenance check, the Sunday Express learned, was also conducted and it was found the substation was not equipped with the following:

• Tap changer boucholz relay

• High voltage bushings

• Neutral bushings

• Tap changer compartment

• Oil level in tap changer conservator was inadequate 

• Three fans were missing  

While the test results were normal, the Sunday Express learned due to the leakage of oil from the transformer  in the presence of a defective bushing the oil ignited.

“The fire was a disaster waiting to happen. The substation was not being maintained. Six fans are needed for the substation and only three are working. The management of T&TEC knew about the problems at the Westmoorings substation and nothing was done,” said Burke.

In spite of the findings of the transmission maintenance check last September, Ramsook is insisting T&TEC was not warned.

“We did a preliminary report and the finding was that the fire was caused by a failure of a bushing on the transformer. An investigative committee is continuing investigations,” Ramsook said.

Asked if T&TEC was warned beforehand about the fire hazard at the substation, Ramsook said: “T&TEC got no warning about the substation. T&TEC has a clear plan to upgrade the substation. We applied to the Port of Spain City Corporation to get land to upgrade the substation. We have a plan. 

“Two months ago the corporation agreed to sell us a parcel of land for $8 million to upgrade the Westmoorings substation. T&TEC have asked the corporation if it is possible if the cost could be reduced. We did not get any special privilege, we went through the normal process.”

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