The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 19, 2012

Empire District Electric Co. replaces transformers damaged during 2011 tornado

Effort is one of final steps in infrastructure restoration

Two transformers, each weighing 126,000 pounds and costing $500,000, were installed by The Empire District Electric Co. Tuesday at its substation at 26th Street and Pearl Avenue.

It’s one of the final steps in completing the Joplin-based utility’s electric infrastructure restoration after the May 22, 2011, tornado.

The substation was destroyed by the tornado, as were most of the homes and businesses of Empire customers in the area. The  EF-5 tornado was so powerful that it even moved one of the previous transformers — weighing the same as the new one — by about four to six inches, utility officials confirmed.

Cranes and other heavy equipment were needed for the job on Tuesday.

“This is probably the last major component of rebuilding after the tornado,” said Sam McGarrah, Empire’s director of commercial operations.

The destroyed substation is part of the estimated $20 million to $30 million in damages to the utility’s infrastructure caused by the tornado. Six other substations were damaged that evening, 4,000 poles were destroyed, and more than 1,000 transformers were either damaged or destroyed along with 100 miles of electric line.

Around 95 percent of the electric lines have been rebuilt, according to the company.

McGarrah said plans are for the substation to be online by August, to help the utility cope with increased demand.

The transformers convert the 69,000-volt transmission line to 12,000 volts for distribution lines used by residential and business neighborhoods.

The substation will have the same capacity as before.

The site for the substation also has increased, taking in part of the property that belonged to St. Mary’s Catholic Church and school. A temporary Catholic elementary school was set up in less than four months near McAuley High School and the church will be rebuilt near 32nd Street and Central City Road.

Empire officials said the added space will allow better ease of movement for workers and equipment, which also will make it safer, but the project won’t disturb the nearby iron cross, which has become one of the representative symbols of the storm, or the nearby Catholic cemetery.

Increased construction has driven the need to get the substation back online, McGarrah said, with nearly 70 percent of the homes that were destroyed on May 22 either rebuilt or in some phase of construction.

“We’re dedicated to meeting the needs of customers,” he added.

David Boren, senior manager of substation and relay maintenance for Empire, said the destroyed substation is one of 175 substation’s in the utility’s system. The location at 26th Street has been a substation since about 1925, he said.

“This was kind of the heart of the damage area,” Boren said.

He said before rebuilding occurred, the electricity demand wasn’t such that the substation was missed.

“The need is coming back,” Boren added. “This will help us relieve pressure on other substations. All those people need power. This is a milestone for us to get it built back.”

Prepatory phase

The Empire District Electric Co. has not yet filed a rate case to recover costs stemming from the May 22, 2011, tornado with the Missouri Public Service Commission, but it has filed preparatory documents, Empire spokeswoman Julie Maus said Tuesday.

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