Power restored in Lowcountry after Palmetto Electric Cooperative experiences massive outage due to fire at substation

Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 6:12 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 29, 2023 at 3:39 PM EDT
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BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WTOC) - More than 60,000 people were without power in Beaufort, Jasper, and Hampton counties Wednesday morning as Palmetto Electric Cooperative experienced a massive outage.

The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office says the power outage was due to a fire at a power substation in Bluffton. Bluffton Fire has confirmed that equipment failure was the cause.

All areas appear to have power restored.

Bluffton fire says the fire started around 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning. When crews arrived on scene, they found a transformer on fire. That fire has since been extinguished.

Palmetto Electric said they haven’t seen widespread outages like this since Hurricane Matthew but they say this wasn’t weather related and with that factor there hasn’t been anything like it since the early 2000s.

Fire crews from Bluffton put out the fire in less than an hour, calling it relatively routine but Palmetto Electric customers saw effects beyond that. The company said they brought power back for over 57,000 customers within two hours of the outage and explained how they did that.

“There’s more than one way to bring power to a substation and what that allows us to do is switching not only at our dispatch center but our alignment in the field we’re able to redirect power from a different transmission line to the substation.... If you had an extension cord running a refrigerator and one outlet went down, you unplug and plug it into another outlet on a different circuit,” said Tray Hunter, the VP of Marketing for Palmetto Electric Cooperative.

Hunter says it’s more complicated than re-plugging in your fridge but that’s the simplest way he can put it. After they did that around 7 a.m., Hunter says they still had about 5,500 hundred customers without power, who were stuck until Santee Cooper, the company who operates this grid, could get the substation back online.

The Town of Bluffton released the following statement, “Town of Bluffton and Beaufort County experienced widespread power outages this morning due to a fire at a power facility in greater Bluffton. While Palmetto Electric personnel are working to restore power as soon as possible, this outage may affect traffic and personal schedules from Sun City to Hilton Head Island. Thank you for your patience and cooperation as fire and power personnel are working to fully restore power throughout the region.”

Beaufort County Schools

With the power outage, Beaufort County Schools sent the following statement out to families, “The district is aware of a power outage affecting areas South of the Broad. At this time, schools will be operating at the normal start time, but we understand that your child may be delayed getting to school. We ask that families please be safe on the roads, due to anticipated traffic delays. Additionally, please be advised that bus service may also be somewhat delayed as a result. We appreciate your patience in this matter. Thank you.”

The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office is also warning drivers to stay safe on the roadway as the power outage caused numerous traffic lights to be out in Bluffton and Hilton Head Island.

You can check an outage map here.

WTOC will continue to follow this story and bring you the latest.