What has happened?
As you may or may not have heard by now, on June 15, 2018 at approximately 2:22 AM we lost power from the mainland. Power was restored to the Island with our diesel engines at 2:48 A.M. and troubleshooting the problem began.
Wisconsin Public Service notified us that the Recloser at Northport had operated twice which is an indication of a fault on our side. Your crew checked fault indicators in the Lobdell Point Fuse Cabinet and found that they did not indicate a fault between there and the Substation. This meant that the fault was between the Lobdell Point Fuse Cabinet and Northport.
Wisconsin Public Service personnel arrived at the Northport OCR and we began our remote switching /testing procedure at approximately 5:32 AM. Three 20 amp fuses were installed (one per phase) and when the Northport Recloser was closed, the B phase fuse blew violently confirming a fault between there and the Lobdell Point Fuse Cabinet. Wisconsin Public Service Locating personnel were dispatched and arrived at Northport at approximately 8:00 AM and set up to attempt to locate the fault. Initial testing indicated that the fault was approximately 10,921 feet from the Northport Recloser but readings were inconsistent so the Locator and WPS Crew came to the Island to set up at the sectionalizing cabinet at the beach where the submarine cable comes ashore. Testing there was not inconsistent and indicated positively (or negatively if you want to look at it that way) a fault on the B phase of the submarine cable 7554 feet from the Island towards Northport. This distance was consistent with the distance indicated from testing at Northport.
This location is extremely close to the Northwestern tip of Plum Island where for years we have seen ice shoves. While we will not be able to confirm that the cable was damaged by ice until we actually physically locate the fault, all indicators point in this direction. The cable should have lasted much longer due to the fact that it has been lightly loaded its entire life.
What is being done?
While this situation is incredibly unfortunate and stressful for all of us, it was not entirely unforeseen. Contacts and exercises have been made and done over the last years (the last one in 2013) to determine a course of action should this situation occur.
Without going into the sheer volume of contacts and calls that have been made over the last several days here is what is happening.
Okonite (the original cable manufacturer), Kerite, Prysmian (Perelli) and General Cable have been contacted. Okonite no longer makes armored cable in the lengths that we require (20,000 ft.). General Cable has a maximum length of 4500 ft. Prysmian has not gotten back to us yet. However, Kerite will do a turnkey project (and gave us budgetary numbers in 2013 which are being updated) and their lead times have been approximately 4 months. They are involved in a number of similar projects and those lead times will be dependent on how they update the plan they have given us in the past
A company by the name of Durocher Dock and Dredge in Cheboygan, Michigan has been contacted and they will be mobilizing a crew hopefully this week. They are experts at submarine cable deployment, repair and recovery and work with Okonite and Kerite regularly. We will require approximately 350 feet of cable and both Okonite and Kerite are working to provide us with what we need. When the fault is pinpointed (and the measurements noted prior are only accurate to a point), a diver will go down and cut the cable. One end of the cable will be brought up to a barge on the surface and will be prepped and sealed and returned to the bottom. The other end of the cable will then be brought up to the barge and prepped and the 350 foot section of repair cable will be spliced to it. It will then be returned to the bottom with the other non-spliced end of the repair section remaining on the barge. The first end will then be brought back to the barge at the surface and be spliced to the other end of the repair section of cable and the whole assembly will then be tested and returned to the bottom. The cable will then be re-energized and hopefully we will be able to shut down the engines and move to the next phase of the project.
This repair and the timing will be dependent on a number of things: Arrival of the repair section of cable (or whether we can use the cable we have here), weather, wind and of course the condition of the cable when it is raised to the surface and inspected. This repair is only a temporary solution to our problem.
The next step will be replacement of the cable with a new one. Unless Prysmian has a better and more expedited set-up, this will most likely be accomplished by Kerite. They just finished a 15,000 foot run in Lake Erie and are working on a 20,000 foot run in Honduras. Things that need to be determined in short order are numerous but several of the key issues we will be dealing with are;
- Route – Do we follow the same route of the existing cable, swinging further away from Plum Island in order to avoid the suspected damage from ice shoves or do we make an arrangement with US Fish and Wildlife to go directly to Plum Island, then underground cross country and then back to the Island. There are positives and negatives to each of these options and they are being weighed from a practical, long term and engineering standpoint in addition to cost.
- Cable type - The current cable is a single armored cable with three conductors in it. The failure of one of these conductors has failed the entire cable. Should the new cable be three individual armored conductors or the same sort of package as we currently have? There are all sorts of considerations from a practical and engineering standpoint to weigh here as well.
- What are the regulatory ramifications of replacing the cable and possibly following a different route? – both routes being considered are already cable routes. Initial contact has been made with our State Rep and our Statewide Cooperative’s Association so that that they can be prepared to help us smooth any rough water so to speak. Additional contacts are in the works.
- What happens if the lead time for the cable stretches into the ice season and what do we do under that circumstance? The temporary repair to the old cable will need to be as robust as possible.
What will this cost?
The Washington Island Electric Cooperative owns the cable and the equipment at Northport.
The short answer on cost is, we don’t know. However, enough legwork has been done in the past to have an idea. In 2013, the high bid for a replacement cable was $1,583,060 for 20,000 feet of armored submarine cable. Installation of the cable, including burying the cable 2 to 3 feet under the bottom to a depth of 30 feet of water, was estimated to be roughly $500,000. These figures are currently being revised to reflect the costs 5 years later. At the time of the original quote, Copper was estimated at $3.48 per pound. Friday, June 15 copper price was $3.14 per pound. So some of the material costs have gone down, but it will remain to be seen where we will end up as actual cost, but it is reasonable to expect that this necessary project will run somewhere in the vicinity of $2,500,000 +. Please understand that at this point this is speculation based on previous information.
NRUCFC, RUS and CoBank have been contacted regarding the issue of financing and we will be able to do this. NRUCFC is our current lender and RUS financed the original cable.
In the meantime, we are on engines and at our current loading are burning approximately 2400 gallons of diesel fuel each day. This is the reason why a timely temporary repair is so necessary. Not only is generating with the diesel engines a very expensive long term prospect, but while on engines, we are extremely susceptible to unbalanced load during storm damage that would cause the engines to stop running. In addition, Fabick Cat has been contacted regarding repair priority dispatch and temporary portable generation should we have an issue.
What can you, as a member, do?
There is a huge amount of effort being undergone that would be too much to detail here, however we have the support of numerous organizations and vendors that will help us get through it. The Cooperative has received numerous offers to help from many members. At this point, there is very little you can do other than support your crew and board and their efforts. As noted before, this is not something we wanted or expected to happen, however, we have done as much as is possible to prepare for it and now we must move forward with the job.
Something that we all should be doing regardless of this situation is conserve energy. Our loads are what determine our fuel consumption on the engines and while we are close to the low end of that fuel consumption now, conserving wherever you can, especially as it becomes warmer, will help keep that consumption stable.
Thanks for your attention and understanding. Further details and information will be coming as soon as they are no longer speculative. We intend to communicate progress on this situation regularly and you will know what we know.
The Board and Employees of the Washington Island Electric Cooperative, Inc.