CUC struggles with power

Caribbean Utilities Company is working hard to repair line faults that have caused frequent intermittent power outages in various locations on Grand Cayman in recent weeks.

‘We’re nowhere near as reliable as we typically are,’ said Richard Hew, CUC’s president and CEO.

CUC measures its reliability in the number of its customers hours (of service) lost.

Normally, CUC maintains a reliability level in excess of 99.9 per cent, but that level has only been about 99.8 per cent so far this year, Mr. Hew said.

‘There are many different elements affecting us right now,’ he said, noting that there was no one thing causing the faults.

The impact of Hurricane Ivan is still to blame for part of the problem, Mr. Hew said.

‘Some of the faults appearing now are related to Ivan,’ he said. ‘Things like cracks in insulators, which don’t show up on inspection, cause intermittent faults during wet periods.’

Mr. Hew said the intermittent line faults, which often last only a few seconds, are difficult to isolate because of their transient nature.

Complicating the matter is the fact that customers usually only report lengthier power outages.

CUC is doing a full inspection of its lines in effort to find faults, Mr. Hew said, noting that the process will take some time.

‘I think it will take six months to work through our entire system,’ he said. ‘We have between 11,000 and 12,000 poles out there.’

In addition, CUC will be upgrading some of its equipment. It has replacement insulators in stock, but the company wants better insulators.

‘We’re looking for a permanent replacement that will be an improvement,’ he said. ‘One that is salt resistant, frog resistant and lightning resistant.’

Mr. Hew said frogs, as well as snakes and birds, are also the cause of some of the faults. Frogs, he said, sometimes stack up on insulators and create a fault.

Lightning also causes faults, and for some reason, more so this year than in the past.

‘There’s more lightening impacting our lines,’ Mr. Hew said, offering a theory as to why.

‘There’s no science to it, but I think that with the lack of trees after Ivan, our poles are the tallest things standing, so they’re getting struck more often,’ he said.

There have been a number of outages recently during the rainy weather of the past few weeks. Mr. Hew said rain, by itself, shouldn’t affect the lines.

However, strong systems like Wilma when it passed, deposit salt spray on the lines.

‘Salt is a very good conductor of electricity and it creates by-passes that cause faults,’ Mr. Hew said.

One thing that is not causing the intermittent outages is the normally scheduled switching of power from one of CUC’s generators to another.

‘Some people have asked if the outages during the night are from when we switch generators,’ he said. ‘But the switch is seamless. Customers wouldn’t be seeing it at all.’

Mr. Hew said the early morning outages are most likely occurring because that is when there is the highest humidity and moisture.

Since it will take some time for CUC to locate all of its line faults, the company is recommending customers use surge protectors with any sensitive electronic equipment such as computers, stereos, and televisions.

‘It’s not just a power strip they should have, but a proper surge protector,’ Mr. Hew said, adding that electricians can actually install one at the panel box to protect the whole house.

Mr. Hew said he was confident that CUC would get back to the reliability it used to have.

‘We are going to put all the necessary resources on this until we get over it. The Line Department and the Engineers Department are working on it.’ he said. ‘It’s something I’m definitely following closely.’