Mobile power substations are used as ‘security blankets’

GLOVERSVILLE – Mention a circuit breaker and you would might think of the electric panel in your basement or garage. 

If the lights in one room go out, you check the circuit breaker to see if one of them has tripped, possibly to prevent an overload. After the proper precautions, you might unplug an appliance or two and switch it back on.

But imagine a circuit breaker  the size of a refrigerator that handles enough power for a small community or several neighborhoods. And consider that it’s running all the time and may be decades old. 

That’s what a utility substation is. And every few years, these jumbo arrays of circuit breakers need maintenance, replacement or upgrading.

But how does one do that without blacking out an entire neighborhood while the work is being done?

One way is through the use of portable power substations, like the one that a group of National Grid technicians were using earlier this summer here to replace the aging breakers currently in place at a substation on the edge of town.

National Grid has 24 of these trailer-sized substations in its upstate region and they are moved around as needed. 

“It’s everything you see here on a trailer,” Dan DeChiuaro, the upstate substation director for National Grid said during a recent tour.

Actually, visit would be a better description than tour, since the actual substation, about the size of two tennis courts, is behind a chain link fence for safety reasons. 

You have no doubt seen these substations scattered across the state, with power lines running into and out of them and the giant bulbous-shaped circuit breakers.

While they can pretty much run on their own, there is a schedule of maintenance and replacement that National Grid follows, meaning the workers and their portable substation are almost constantly on the move, going from one location to the next.

“It’s a never-ending plan,” DeChiaro said, adding that the improvements being done at this substation would take about a month and cost about $300,000…