Today’s news:

Transformer fire causes blackouts across Queens

The blaze...

By Dustin Brown

A transformer fire at an Astoria power plant led to blackouts in thousands of homes across northeast Queens Monday night, prompting city officials to call on borough residents to conserve energy in the midst of this week’s intense heat wave.

The blaze broke out around 11:30 p.m. at the Astoria Generating Station operated by Reliant Energy at 20th Avenue and Shore Boulevard, causing an outage in the plant’s four operating units.

Fire Department spokesman James Spollen said the two-alarm fire was brought under control shortly before 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Another fire broke out early Wednesday morning at an NRG Energy Inc. plant in Astoria when a gas turbine in the rear of the building caught fire, according to fire officials. The fire did not cause power outages, according to a report in Newsday.

Power outages hit more than 9,000 customers across northeast Queens in Douglaston, Whitestone, College Point, Bayside, Little Neck and Flushing as a result of Monday’s fire, ConEdison spokesman Carl Lee said. Power was restored for most of them within two to six hours, he said, although a few hundred scattered outages still were being dealt with Tuesday morning in individual locations across Queens and Brooklyn.

An hour earlier at 10:30 p.m. power was also lost in Jamaica within a five-by-five block area between 109th and 111th avenues from Sutphin Boulevard to 155th Street, police said.

Many borough homes also experienced brownouts — temporary power outages that lasted only a moment — around the same time the fire broke out.

Two of the plant’s four generating units were brought back on-line by 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and operations were restored at a third by 2:30 p.m. All three units were expected to be available at full capacity in time for the late afternoon peak demand period.

The unit in which the fire broke out was expected to begin operating at partial capacity by later Tuesday afternoon on the second day that temperatures soared into the 90s in Queens.

ConEd was able to meet energy demands Tuesday afternoon despite the fire, Lee said.

Reliant spokesman Richard Wheatley said Tuesday the company had yet to determine the precise cause of the fire, which was related to an internal electrical problem in one of the plant’s transformers.

“Generally when you have conditions such as these with the heat and peak demands, plants do have mechanical problems and other things happen,” Wheatley said. “Whether or not that is the situation in this case, it’s too early to say.”

At the time of the fire the plant had not been operating at full capacity, which is typical during nighttime hours when demand is lower.

The incident came a week after a transformer exploded at ConEd’s East River Generation Station on 14th Street.

City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), whose district includes the Reliant plant, said “these mishaps may require some Council oversight as to what is being done to prevent them.”

The city Office of Emergency Management issued an advisory Tuesday urging all city residents, particularly those in northern Queens, to reduce power usage by turning off non-essential electrical appliances and equipment “to help reduce the likelihood of any other power reductions or power outages.”

“At this point we are asking customers to conserve electricity during this hot weather spell,” Lee said.

The city has opened cooling centers across the borough in response to the heat advisories issued by the National Weather Service both Monday and Tuesday. All residents are encouraged to visit the air-conditioned senior and community centers to get relief from the heat. For information on the nearest center, call 1-800-4-COOL-NY, or visit www.nyc.gov/oem.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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