Sporadic outages island-wide

The Caribbean Utilities Company operation in Cayman isn’t having the best of weeks.

But company officials said Wednesday that a spate of island-wide power outages that have occurred since 13 August were the result of ‘unforeseeable’ mechanical failures, not negligence or lack of supply capacity within the CUC system.

The outages; one on the evening of 13 August, the second on Monday morning and a third during Tuesday afternoon, all occurred in various areas of Grand Cayman and all occurred because of problems at different locations in the CUC supply system.

‘The recent frequency of failure is coincidental and is in no way indicative of underlying reliability issues,’ according to a utility company statement released Wednesday afternoon.

The first outage, which left more than 8,300 customers without power from West Bay to North Side was blamed on a mechanical component failure within the control air system at the North Sound electricity plant. Most homes and businesses had power restored within two hours of the outage.

The second power cut affected nearly 12,000 customers in South Sound, Frank Sound, Bodden Town, North Side and East End. It was blamed on a failure in the operation line, which feeds electricity to South Sound and the island’s eastern districts that took the lights out for about 40 minutes.

The final incident affected electricity customers for less than half an hour in most cases. It hit nearly 8,400 customers in East End, North Side, George Town, Bodden Town and West Bay and was blamed on an electrical fault in one of the circuit breakers at the North Sound plant.

CUC has more than 23,000 customers, and the majority of them were affected at some point by the outages over the past week.

The power outages affected businesses from restaurants, to gas stations, to retail stores, some of which had to shut down during the outages or cut back on services.

CUC President Richard Hew apologised for the inconvenience and said the company’s outage reporting hotline was simply unable to handle the number of calls it received.

‘We continue to do all we can to avoid outages, and to quickly restore power when failures occur,’ Mr. Hew said. ‘Reliability remains our key focus.’

CUC officials stressed that the company has more than adequate capacity to meet demand in Grand Cayman, and that the islands’ population is not outstripping available capacity.

‘CUC maintains online ‘spinning’ reserve generation capacity such that if we lost a single unit of generation, customers would not be affected,’ the company’s statement read. ‘However, if a large block of generation that exceeds this reserve is lost, the system will automatically shut down feeders to avoid a total system black out.’

Under the company’s current transmission licence, CUC must maintain reserve generation capacity of between 135 and 155 per cent of forecast demand for power. Right now, CUC has a generation capacity of 136.6 megawatts. It’s ‘peak loads’ for electricity are estimated at 93 megawatts.

The company plans to add another 16 megawatt capacity expansion in 2009. It will also solicit bids for the addition of another 32 megawatts capacity for installation sometime in 2011 or 2012.

‘These outages do not belie capacity limitations in the system,’ the CUC statement read.