Transmission line failure sparks widespread power outage
WASHINGTON - A power transmission line in Charles County fell to the ground Tuesday afternoon triggering widespread power outages that stretched from Southern Maryland to the White House.
Other federal buildings including the U.S. Capitol and the IRS also reported outages. Smithsonian museums and Union Station were all left in the dark after the power went out about 12:50 p.m.
The University of Maryland closed its College Park campus at 2 p.m. because of a campus-wide outage. Traffic lights were out or flashing throughout downtown D.C. and more than a dozen Metro stations operated on backup power.
SMECO, which had up to 17,000 customers out initially, says that a Pepco transmission conductor at its Ryceville switching station fell from its supports just before 1 p.m., which caused a loss of electrical supply to the utility's Ryceville and Hewitt Road stations. Pepco's supply to Morgantown and Chalk Point interconnections was also interrupted.
Pepco says there was a dip in power to a transmission line in Charles County. The dip in voltage did not result in a complete power outage, according to the utility. Pepco crews are trying to repair the transmission equipment.
Pepco spokesman Sean Kelly tells WTOP that when the lights went out inside government and other buildings, that's when the power flipped over to backup supply systems. But in some cases, those backup generators did not work, he says.
Kelly says Pepco will review its connections to various power supply facilities around the region and he did not know why the outage rippled to far from the Ryceville switching station.
SMECO President Joe Slater says that when the line fell there may have been sparking, flames or electrical arcing and possibly a loud noise, but there was no explosion. The line may have sparked a small grass fire and a photo of the line lying on the ground shows burn marks in the surrounding grass.
Slater says that there is no evidence of terrorism or vandalism but says that the line simply fell due to equipment failure.
Most Pepco and SMECO customers have had their power restored.
The U.S. Justice Department, the GSA and State Department buildings were also without power. The White House briefly used backup generators.
Dupont Circle Metro Station had no operating escalators and 13 other stations operated on backup power. Power has since been restored to all Metro stations. However the outage damaged one of two available escalators at the Bethesda station. Because the third escalator was being replaced and not available, Metro closed the Red Line station until about 9:15 p.m.
Tuesday was partly cloudy with a chance of rain in the evening, but no severe weather was reported.
WTOP's Michelle Basch contributed to this report from Charles County.