Work aims to protect electrical lines in flood areas

Submitted to Dorchester Banner/Laetitia Sands
A newly raised padmount transformer is seen at waterfront property in the Neck District. In the background are the Choptank River and the tip of Cook’s Point.

NECK DISTRICT — Delmarva Power has been raising electrical transformers that sit on the ground in residents’ yards by almost two feet in part of the Neck District, in a bid to reduce the chance of blackouts during flooding and prepare for more severe weather linked to climate change.

Work on 13 so-called padmount transformers along Twin Point Cove Road, in a rural area about 12 miles west of Cambridge, began on Jan. 21, and should be completed by Feb. 11, Delmarva Power spokesman Tim Stokes told the Banner.

He said that, as far as he knew, this was the only place in Maryland where the company was elevating such equipment above where it might be inundated by worsening floods in the future.

Lifting up transformers in the Neck, which last October experienced some of the deepest tidal flooding since Hurricane Isabel in 2003, comes as part of Delmarva Power’s strategy to deal with the consequences of climate change.
Many houses in Dorchester County were raised after the devastating hurricane 16 years ago, but padmount transformers were left untouched until now.

“At Delmarva Power we believe that climate change is real,” Mr. Stokes wrote in an email, “Across our service area, we are seeing the impacts of more frequent and more severe weather driven by climate change. Powerful and damaging storms are becoming more frequent and these storms are bringing stronger and more damaging winds and extreme flooding, particularly in coastal communities.”

As part of modernizing the energy grid serving the Eastern Shore, the utility was “taking steps to strengthen our local infrastructure against more extreme weather and improve reliability,” he said.

This included “elevating equipment in areas prone to flooding, installing state-of-the-art utility poles that can withstand hurricane force winds up to 120 mph, and designing substations that can be operated remotely during severe storms and hurricanes. Raising the padmount transformers in Twin Point Cove is part of this ongoing effort and will protect the equipment up to 20 inches of flooding,” he wrote.

Padmount transformers, also called pad-mounted transformers, are electric power distribution transformers in locked steel cabinets that sit on a concrete pad in the ground.

Large vehicles, one equipped with a crane, and a team of men in yellow vests have become a common sight recently in the Neck. In mid-October last year, at least one blackout affected about 78 households when high tides, exacerbated by a storm offshore and a full moon, repeatedly flooded the area, making Cook’s Point Road and parts of Twin Point Cove Road impassable to most vehicles for hours.

Workers, using a crane, have hoisted the padmount transformers — large green boxes located in residents’ yards, near the edge of the road – onto even larger, taller, square boxes, creating structures almost five feet tall. The arrangement should prevent water up to 20 inches deep from seeping into the electrical equipment inside.

No work will be done along Cook’s Point Road, where water across the road reached at least a foot deep during the October floods, because that area has overhead power lines.

Mr. Stokes said, “This type of equipment maintenance is paid for by all customers through the ‘Delivery Charge’ section of each customer’s bill.” All Maryland customers pay the charge, which is set and reviewed by the Maryland Public Service Commission, and finances maintenance work.

The spokesman could not immediately say how much the project will cost his company or its customers.