Lightning a Suspected Contributor to Power Plant Fire

A large fire at the Grand River Dam Authority’s (GRDA’s) Chouteau, Okla., coal-fired power plant was triggered by a string of unfortunate events shortly after a storm passed through the region on July 1.

Justin Alberty, GRDA corporate communications director, told POWER that the fire started at around 7 p.m. that night. He said GRDA is still investigating the cause, but it did confirm with a Tulsa meteorologist that there was a very large lightning strike near the plant site at approximately that time.

Although the lightning was not the source of the actual fire, it is believed to have caused “the pump which helps keep the turbine-generator unit cool” to trip. Plant operators on shift attempted to restart the pump, but were unable to do so. As the generator continued to turn, it overheated, resulting in friction and rubbing, leading to the blaze.

Initially, the Chouteau, Pryor, and Locust Grove fire departments responded to help extinguish the fire. However, additional assistance was required. In the end, 13 departments were utilized, including Tulsa, which sent one of its large ladder trucks to reach the roof. The roof was the last thing to be extinguished at about 1:30 a.m. Alberty said there were no injuries as a result of the fire.

The Chouteau facility (Figure 1) has two coal-fired units. The 490-MW Unit 1 began commercial operations in 1981, and the 520-MW Unit 2 started up in 1985. A combined cycle gas-fired unit is currently under construction at the site.

1. GRDA’s thermal-generation facility transformed the Authority from a small, northeastern Oklahoma hydroelectricity producer, to a major electricity supplier for the region. Courtesy: GRDA

Tulsa television station KOTV reported that the fire was in Unit 2, but that Unit 1 had not been restarted as of July 5 because it was also being inspected. Public Radio Tulsa reported that the damage could take up to two years to repair.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)

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