Beginning Saturday, September 16th, you may have started seeing or hearing about rolling electrical outages. So, what actually happened?
A construction project on St. Thomas punctured a duct bank (the concrete or metal container that is used to protect utility lines and cables), which, in turn, punctured the electrical cable inside. Unfortunately for all of St. John and parts of St. Thomas, that duct bank happened to be the home to one of the primary cables for Feeder 13. This underground cable delivers power from the Randolph Harley Power Plant to the Tutu Substation.
According to the press release from the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority on Monday, September 18th, “WAPA’s power generation begins at the Randolph Harley Power Plant (RHPP) on St. Thomas. After electricity is generated, it is funneled through the RHPP substation for distribution to customers that reside on the “A” feeders and the remaining electricity is commuted over two major active transmission feeders—Feeder 12 and Feeder 13 to serve the balance of the customers in the St. Thomas/St. John District.”
The third transmission line, Feeder 11, would normally be used as an additional source of transmission to the Donald C. Francois (DCF) Substation, along with Feeder 12. Unfortunately, due to damage to the substation from the storms of 2017, Feeder 11 is currently offline and cannot support distribution of power from RHPP to customers.
For one full week, Feeder 12 became the lifeline for electricity in the area. Because Feeder 12 cannot solely handle the electrical load of the entire district, scheduled electrical rotations were needed to keep 12 running while 13 was being repaired. For most of St. John, that meant spending a good portion of the week with 2 hours of power followed by 2 hours of darkness. Nothing like conditioning that dominant arm with a good generator pull cord workout.
Though a decent portion of the scheduled outages went slightly off-schedule and the frustrations increased as the week progressed, it was made tolerable by a community that was willing to help and support each other while we figured it all out. If nothing else, it was nice to not feel alone through the confusion. Lots of appliances and electronics lost to power surges, but everyone remained safe.
WAPA, with help from Electrical Conductors LLC and Haugland VI, was able to complete the repairs on Saturday, September 23rd. They will be working to investigate the situation thoroughly in hopes to prevent major disruptions in the future.
For more information on WAPA feeder distribution, you can view the feeder map here.