MGE Substation

The scene at an MGE substation at the corner of E. Main St. and S. Livingston St. in downtown in Madison.

Officials are investigating what caused a transmission explosion and fire at Madison Gas & Electric’s main power center downtown Friday. As of early afternoon, power is returning to several downtown addresses.

Meanwhile, essential city and county services, such as the police department and 911 Center, are operating out of back-up locations. The outage is especially critical for public health as it is occurring during an extreme heat warning.

“We’re working hard to keep the community safe,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said at a press conference Friday. 

Officials are encouraging residents to find air-conditioned spaces and utilize cooling centers, like libraries and the Kohl Center. Rhodes-Conway said the city is in communication with the governor’s office, which has offered support and resources.

“We will deploy what we need to deploy to take care of people,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Rhodes-Conway also encouraged downtown residents to make back up plans in case power remains out overnight. 

MGE chairman, president and CEO Jeff Keebler said MGE plans on bringing customers back in a systematic manner as soon as they know the system is safe to operate. He said they are sending in engineering and crews to the Blount Street substation to test the equipment.

A second substation on North Park Street near the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s East Campus Mall also caught fire. Keebler said it is a possibility the fires are connected because the substations operate on the same transmission.

“We do believe it was a mechanical issue,” Keebler said, noting that local energy consumption has been normal for summer heat. 

The American Transmission Company, a Wisconsin-based company that owns and operates the electric transmission system in portions of the upper midwest, operates the East Campus Mall substation. Keebler said ATC is investigating this location.

Keebler said he did not believe any employees were at the downtown substation at the time the fire broke out. There were no injuries.

When the explosion occurred, Keebler said the equipment was still operating.

“We had to de-energize or turn off the equipment feeding our distribution system, so the fire department could come in and put out the fire,” Keebler said.

As of 11:35 a.m., the number of people without power dropped from about 11,600 to about 6,788. The City-County Building is out of power.

There are currently 12 intersections downtown running on generators. When an intersection is dark, it should be treated as a four-way stop.

“We’re working on keeping traffic moving safely downtown,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Rhodes-Conway encouraged residents to be aware when driving downtown, plan for extra time when traveling through Madison and to stay cool as much as possible.

An update is expected at 4 p.m. The city will publish updates online

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