Power plant restored after precautionary engine shutdown

Biola’s power plant was restored after white smoke rose from the building Sunday afternoon.


Kalli Thommen/THE CHIMES

Katie Nelson and Anna Frost

Lauren Frey and Josh Kristianto contributed reporting

An excessive amount of steam billows out of the power plant building next to Crowell Hall at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 3. | Kalli Thommen/THE CHIMES


Steam in Biola’s power plant reached an abnormally high pressure Nov. 3 around 1:30 p.m., forcing excess vapor to rise from the building, according to Los Angeles County fire captain Skip Berry. The plant operator successfully restored the power plant to full working order on Nov. 4.

An alarm sounded for approximately 20 minutes before power plant operator Joseph Hidy arrived on the scene around 2:11 p.m. and silenced it.

Had a safety valve not been in place to relieve the pressure, the plant would have exploded, Berry said.

“It was a buildup in steam pressure, so that was the relief valve releasing the extra steam and pressure so it wouldn’t blow up,” Berry said. “The thing operated the way it should’ve.”

Though two out of the three engines in the power plant were shut down as a precaution, the temperature did not reach the critical point where they would automatically shut off, said senior director of facilities management Brian Phillips. However, campus would not experience a power outage if the power plant shut down completely.

If the campus power plant loses power, then Southern California Edison provides all of the campus’ power through generators while the problem is solved, Phillips explained. However, if an issue occurs on SCE’s end, such as the case of the Oct. 10 power outage, Biola’s power plant cannot produce power separate from SCE. One of Phillips’ goals is to make the power plant self-sufficient so the campus can operate on a basic level in the case of a loss of power from SCE.


Though it would not completely isolate Biola’s power production from SCE at all times, the ability to operate independently would provide safety during a long power outage.

“It entails some electrical engineering and installation of some electrical equipment that would allow us to bring the campus up after a prolonged power outage. It wouldn’t allow us to power all of campus, but it would allow us to get the lights on and keep the light safety systems going,” Phillips said.

The power plant produces 85 percent of Biola’s power, including space heating and hot water, in tandem with SCE, Phillips said. The power generated by Biola’s plant, as opposed to receiving power exclusively from SCE, saves the university over $1 million every year. 

While facilities is working with engineers to achieve the ability isolate the power plant from SCE, Phillips is currently pricing out the plan for a proposal. The actual project is not expected to be completed for at least another year.

The Nov. 3 incident drew the attention of students and visitors as firefighters arrived to address the situation. Makaela Howard was at Biola visiting friends for the day when she noticed the smoke at the power plant.

“I just came up and saw the smoke, and then the next thing I know, the firetruck came up,” she said. “I saw the smoke was white, and normally when there’s white smoke, it’s not a fire.”

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