Engine failure causes islandwide blackout


An oil splash monitoring system failure on one engine at Power Plant 1 was behind the islandwide power outage that started at 2:35am last Saturday.

In a statement last Saturday, the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. said that re-energizing the entire island of Saipan was done in phases due to some technical problems.

Residents who were sound asleep woke up to the sweltering heat as the power outage turned off air-conditioning units and fans. Those still partying at the start of the weekend had to navigate pitch-black streets.

Brian Kibler, who is visiting from Seattle, said, “My friends and I were out at GIG in Garapan when the power went out at around 2:30am. The streets were dark as there were no light posts and traffic lights on.”

The original cause of the outage—the oil splash monitoring system—was a recent upgrade by the engine’s manufacturer, said CUC deputy executive director William Gilmore and plant operations supervisor Victor Flores.

“Generator No. 5 suffered a failure. …Subsequently, a generator over current fault occurred, causing an automatic trip and ultimately an islandwide power outage as the protective breakers opened on all operating engines, causing low voltage, de-energizing the entire power plant,” Gilmore and Flores said in the statement.

After a few hours, CUC’s power system was secured and the assessment process began. Once that was completed, restoration of the island power supply started. However, there were some technical problems, starting with a station service generator.

“Once those repairs on the generator were completed, the restoration of the feeders began with Feeder No. 3, 2, 7, 1 and Kiya No. 1, 2, and 3 throughout the day. The repairs went through challenges such as the electrical problems…. Therefore, the power plant did not have adequate generating capacity to finalize the restoration of Kiya No. 4 and the second partial of Feeder No. 2.”

To make up for the lack of power, CUC coordinated with the hotels and shops to self-generate until the engines were online, Gilmore and Flores said.

The hotels that were asked to switch on their generators were Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan, Hyatt Regency Saipan, Grandvrio Resort, and T Galleria.

Unfortunately, the power outage also affected CUC’s water supply on the island.

“At 4:15pm, repairs were completed and the engines were put online and…Feeder 7 and Kiya 4 were reenergized and the island power [was] fully restored. [However], due to the loss of island power, the water supply was affected and…water services [was] fully restored by 1am June 25, 2017.”

Gilmore and Flores noted that CUC has been communicating with the vendor that installed the oil splash monitoring system that caused the initial incident to discuss and analyze the problem of the fault.

“Moving forward as per our protocol, management and staff of Power Generation will do a complete review and assessment of the cause of the incident and review issues of its operational procedures and electrical system to mitigate future problems,” they said.

Contributing Author

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