NV Energy to seek $45 million in damages in substation fire lawsuit

Aug 6, 2019
Posted by Patrick Haddad

NV Energy has filed a lawsuit seeking more than $45 million in damages against a French company blamed for equipment failures that caused multiple catastrophic explosions at electric substations and power plants throughout the state over the last nine years.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court on July 18, alleges that Trench-France and Trench-Canada (both subsidiaries of Siemens, a multinational German electric equipment company) negligently produced and made “material misrepresentations” about the capacity of their bushings — insulating devices used to “protect persons and equipment from high-voltage electricity exceeding 50,000 volts.”

Failure of the bushings, allegedly caused by manufacturing errors and extreme heat, were blamed for causing at least six explosions and fires at NV Energy substations and power plants between 2011 and 2017, costing millions of dollars worth of damage and requiring replacement of all Trench-manufactured bushings at a cost of $35.8 million.

The lawsuit alleges that the bushings — marketed in a 2003 catalog as able to “last the life of your power transformer” — were “negligently and defectively manufactured,” contributing to at least four explosions and fires at NV Energy substations since 2015.

“Paper layers were cut crudely, and with tools not utilized by other bushing-manufacturers,” the lawsuit states. “The resulting rough edges lead to insulation break-down and sudden catastrophic failures.”

The suit also alleges that the bushings were manufactured in non-hygienic locations, causing “unwanted and dangerous contamination.” It also claims that aluminum layers within the bushings were installed by hand, as opposed to using laser-guided or automated systems, which created inconsistencies and non-symmetrical forces leading to “sudden and catastrophic failures (explosions).”

Those alleged shortcomings meant that Trench-produced bushings were at risk of explosion when loaded at less than 25 percent capacity — contradicting a 2014 claim by the company that the bushings could withstand up to 74 percent of their nameplate capacity.

After the initial set of explosions, the utility began a replacement program for the bushing devices, which included a monitoring system that detected out of 15 transformers, 32 of the 118 bushings produced by Trench were “degraded.”

The utility previously sued Trench and Siemens in 2015 over the explosions, but the case was dismissed by a federal judge, who said the power company failed to state a “legally cognizable claim.” The utility appealed, but voluntarily withdrew its appeal in 2017.

Attorneys for NV Energy allege that in 2013, Trench executives reported to Siemens (the parent company) that the bushings were exploding “with a frequency which was far greater than average, and much in excess of customers’ experience or expectations.” The lawsuit states that Trench executives created a task force in 2014 and traveled to Nevada to study reliability issues with the equipment.

In addition to the $45 million sought in damages, the lawsuit is seeking prejudgment interest, the cost of the lawsuit and any other compensation deemed just and proper by the court.

A spokesperson for Siemens declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Source: The Nevada Independent

Photo (for illustrative purposes): Substation / Paul Sableman / Flickr / CC BY 2.0


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