Buried power lines eyed

Posted on Feb 07 2019

Commonwealth Utilities Corp. executive director Gary Camacho speaks in front of business leaders at the Saipan Chamber of Commerce general membership meeting yesterday at the Seaside Hall of Kanoa Resort in Susupe (Bea Cabrera)

Overhead cables providing electrical power may soon go the way of the dodo, with the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. contemplating an underground power system that is seen to benefit key areas in the CNMI in the wake of typhoons.

Speaking at the Saipan Chamber of Commerce general membership meeting yesterday at the Seaside Hall of Kanoa Resort in Susupe, CUC executive director Gary Camacho laid out CUC’s resiliency plans after Super Typhoon Yutu.

“The underground project is one of the proposals that we are working with Federal Emergency Management Agency. …We believe that, in securing [the power system] underground, we would be able to quickly re-energize critical areas,” he said.

The priority is both Saipan and Tinian, Camacho later clarified.

For Saipan, the idea—at least for now—is to bury power lines in key areas so they remain unaffected during storms. The priorities are the hospital—the Commonwealth Health Center—and the airport—the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport.

“The hospital is imperative, especially during storms, as there is always a potential of people getting injured and it is important that the hospital is operational. The airport is a facility that has to have 24-hour operation to be able to provide the immediate supplies and materials for humanitarian purposes more than anything else,” he said.

Camacho said that Yutu left Tinian and the south of Saipan with the most damage. “It was more than one island and this was really an eye-opener for us.”

“We plan to tie Power Plant 1 with Power Plant 4 and inevitably to the hospital. …Other location would be from the substation in Chalan Kiya to the airport to make available an emergency port of entry. This will accommodate 24-hour deliveries because, after Yutu, they could only do that during the day because it ran without power supply at night so we want to make sure that is something that can have a 24-hour [power],” Camacho added.

Another priority is replacing wood power poles with concrete ones. When Super Typhoon Yutu slammed into Saipan last Oct. 24 and 25, thousands of poles were snapped or taken down by winds of 180 miles per hour and gusts of up to 220 miles per hour. We incurred 2,142 total pole damage, 946 damaged transformers, and 1,118,930 linear feet of damaged overhead conductors…

“We had thought about events like these and discussed it many times over the years but we really did not fully understand that we would have almost the same degree of damage on both islands,” Camacho said.

“…Currently, any pole that went down will be replaced by concrete. …We are also going to be changing a lot of wooden cross-arms with fiberglass and we are also considering to move to triple A 6 aluminum, which has a longer lifespan,” he added.

All these would depend on the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreeing to fund this project and Camacho hopes that FEMA would consider them. “This would really allow us the opportunity to address those critical areas on any restoration of any island and allow us to focus on other areas. …Unlike Typhoon Soudelor [in 2015], which took us 24 days to restore power at the production level, we were able to do it after Yutu in just a few days,” he said.

“On Oct. 28 we started to produce power at Power Plant 4 but we had to transfer power over to Power Plant 1. …This was a tricky process and very dangerous but we were able to do it that night. We then went from a small engine to a larger one and, from there, we were able to start to build load on the island.,” he added.

Camacho reiterated that, together with the Chamber, one of the priorities of CUC is the economy.

“We understand the importance of the economy, so there is positive growth rate in load restoration from Oct. 25 after Yutu and we continue to do that on both islands. …Currently 99 percent of CUC power customers on Saipan has been restored and 79 percent of Tinian customers have been energized.” he said.

“We live and we learn and this is a continuous learning process. …We saw how important the government and the private sectors’ relationship is during recovery efforts,” he added.

Bea Cabrera
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.
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