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Originally published Friday, February 8, 2013 at 8:44 PM

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Super Bowl blackout traced to preventive equipment

An electric utility stopped short of taking all the blame for the Super Bowl blackout, saying it was looking into whether the electrical relay at fault had a design flaw or a manufacturing defect.

The Associated Press

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NEW ORLEANS — The company that supplied electricity to the Super Bowl says the blackout that halted the big game was caused by a device it installed specially to prevent a power failure.

But the utility stopped short of taking all the blame and said Friday that it was looking into whether the electrical relay at fault had a design flaw or a manufacturing defect.

The relay had been installed as part of a project begun in 2011 to upgrade the electrical system serving the Superdome in anticipation of the championship game. The equipment was supposed to guard against problems in the cable that links the power grid with lines that go into the stadium.

“The purpose of it was to provide a newer, more-advanced type of protection for the Superdome,” Dennis Dawsey, an executive with Entergy, told the City Council. Entergy is the parent company of Entergy New Orleans, the city’s main electric utility.

Entergy officials said the relay functioned with no problems during January’s Sugar Bowl and other earlier events. It has been removed and will be replaced.

All systems at the Superdome are working, and the stadium was to host a major Mardi Gras event Saturday night, said Doug Thornton, an executive with SMG, the company that manages the stadium for the state.

The relay was installed in a building near the stadium known as “the vault,” which receives a line directly from a nearby Entergy substation. Once the line reaches the vault, it splits into two cables that go into the Superdome.

Sunday’s power failure cut lights to about half of the stadium, halting play between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers and interrupting one of the nation’s most-watched sporting event for 34 minutes.

Not long after Friday’s announcement, the manufacturer of the relay, Chicago-based S&C Electric, released a statement saying the blackout occurred because system operators had put the relay’s so-called trip setting too low to allow the device to handle the incoming electric load. “If higher settings had been applied, the equipment would not have disconnected the power,” said Michael Edmonds, vice president of strategic solutions for S&C.

In response, Entergy said tests conducted by S&C and Entergy on the two relays at the Superdome showed that one worked as expected, the other did not.

Entergy spokesman Mike Burns said both relays had the same trip setting.

Entergy’s announcement came shortly before company officials went before a committee of the City Council, which is the regulatory body for the company.

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