Following the Atlanta Airport’s $40M Power Outage, What’s Next?

Feb. 12, 2018
Georgia Power says it plans to work with the Atlanta airport and the city to determine any possible reliability upgrades in response to an 11-hour power outage December 17 that cost Delta Airlines $40 million.

Georgia Power says it plans to work with the Atlanta airport and the city to determine any possible reliability upgrades in response to an 11-hour power outage December 17 that cost Delta Airlines $40 million.

The Southern Company subsidiary made the statement in a series of answers to questions posed by the staff of the George Public Service Commission, and posted on the commission website.

The utility’s actions are being closely watched by the microgrid industry, which sees the world’s busiest airport as a prime location for an advanced microgrid.

Staff posed the questions within days after the power outage at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The utility was given 30 days to respond.

Among other things, staff asked if the utility had studied the feasibility of installing a microgrid “for such a critical customer.” In its written response, Georgia Power said it had not. (Docket No. 170858/STF-34-20). But the company added that it is in the process of conducting a thorough investigation into the cause of the power outage and “will determine the appropriate path forward based on the results of the investigation.”

The utility described “high level discussions” underway with the Atlanta Airlines Terminal Corp (AATC), which operates the airport “concerning alternatives around backup generation systems.”

“The AATC and City of Atlanta will be involved in determining whether any additional steps should be taken to enhance the reliability of the electric system at the airport,” the utility said.

PowerSecure, an affiliate that focuses on distributed energy and microgrids, has been involved in developing the concepts, the utility said.

As part of any improvements, the parties may consider enhancements to cybersecurity and critical infrastructure security, according to the utility.

Power outage cost Delta $40M

The power outage cost Delta airlines $40 million, according to Edward Bastian, Delta CEO & director, who provided the figures during an earnings call last month. Atlanta is Delta’s hub.

The airline is in “very productive conversations” with the utility, city and airport authority about “putting in the right design and structure, both in the short and long-term, to protect our power source,” he said.

The blackout forced the cancellation of about 1,400 flights.

Georgia Power said preliminary data indicates the outage was caused by a fire in an underground tunnel where cables deliver utility power to the airport’s main terminal and Concourses A-F.  Two distribution circuits that serve the “People Mover (or Plane Train)” also run through the underground tunnel.

The fire damaged the cables, disrupting delivery of utility power by Georgia Power to the main terminal, Concourses A-F, and the People Mover. The control tower and North Airfield Lighting Vault also lost power.

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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