PLAQUEMINE — Work is under way on installation of a new, $900,000 transformer designed to boost the city electrical system’s voltage capacity and provide more stable electric service as part of a $4 million substation upgrade.

Plaquemine Mayor Mark “Tony” Gulotta said he hopes to have the new transformer online by the summer.

“The summertime is when we use the most of our electricity,” Gulotta said.

The new transformer, which arrived Dec. 30, will replace the city’s current one, which Gulotta said was built in the 1950s and had begun to show troubling signs.

“We did some oil sampling … that got us concerned,” Gulotta said.

Gulotta said the city decided to test its transformer after Morgan City’s transformer caught fire in July, leaving the city without electricity for two days.

“When that happened, that made a lot of other cities look and see what their configurations were,” Gulotta said. “We were hooked up the same way Morgan City was.”

Plaquemine Director of Utilities Frank Mott said the city has been operating its own electrical system for decades. It serves about 5,500 households, he added.

Mott said customers won’t see any change in their electric service once the new transformer is operational.

“All this is basically doing is creating more reliability down at the substation,” Mott said. “After we finish with the new substation, we’re going to start looking at refurbishing our distribution system, but that’s going to take quite some time.”

Mott said the new transformer will step up the city’s power output from 69,000 volts to 115,000 volts.

The city intends to use the current transformer as a backup, Mott said.

If Plaquemine’s present transformer would break down, city spokeswoman Ellie Hebert said, the city would have to resort to using the steam power plant, which would take six to eight hours to get running.

The power plant alone would be incapable of handling the city’s electrical demand, Hebert said in a news release.

“The maximum capacity for the city’s steam plant is 21 megawatts and the city’s electrical load peaks at 27 megawatts in the summer,” she said. “Relying on the steam plant would mean rolling blackouts until the transformer could be repaired.”

The city secured a $2 million low-interest loan to purchase the new transformer. The city expects to borrow the additional funds needed to complete the project, Hebert added.

“The complicated process of installing the new transformer will require running new underground feeder lines to the existing transformer because they are located where the new transformer will be installed,” Hebert said in the release.

City crews also will have to set piles for the new transformer pad, lay a ground grid, install a new control building and configure all the necessary wiring needed to make it the new primary substation for Plaquemine, she said.