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CPP Fire Comes on Heels of GAO Warning

In addition to his monthly update on construction of the Capitol Visitor Center, Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman will address a fire that occurred earlier this month at the Capitol Power Plant when he goes before House appropriators Tuesday.

The Oct. 8 electrical fire was caused when a circuit breaker servicing a chilled water pump malfunctioned. According to an AOC incident report, there were no injuries in the fire, and damage was limited to equipment scheduled to be taken out of service as part of an expansion project to increase the CPP’s production capacity to accommodate the CVC and other needs. The Architect’s office said last week it was investigating the cause of the breaker failure.

“During the incident, chilled water service (air conditioning) to the complex was not disrupted,” the report read. “However, steam service (heat and humidity) was reduced temporarily as a result of the reduction in power, and it had a slight impact on some room temperatures in some areas and hot water temperature in some fixtures. … The incident has had no impact on the West Refrigeration Plant Expansion Project.”

However, the fire comes just weeks after the Government Accountability Office submitted a report at the most recent hearing held by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch stating that several problems at the facility could affect the CPP’s ability to provide sufficient chilled water and steam for the CVC and other Congressional buildings. Among the issues the GAO cited were “problems with aging equipment, fire damage, management weaknesses and a leadership vacancy.”

The GAO report discussed a fire that broke out at the CPP in June in which one of two boilers that burn coal to generate steam was damaged. According to a power plant incident report, operator errors contributed to that incident and subsequent damage.

“CPP is important to the functioning of Congress, and strong leadership is needed to oversee the completion of the the expansion project and the integration, commissioning, and operation of the new equipment, as well as address the operational and management problems at the plant,” the GAO report said.

A spokeswoman for the AOC said last week that Hantman plans to provide an update on the CPP at Tuesday’s hearing, and a committee spokeswoman said that though it won’t be the major focus of the hearing, the Oct. 8 fire would be discussed.