Although Caribbean Utilities Company sustained some damage to its transmission and distribution system as a result of Hurricane Gustav passing through the area last week, it was not enough to cause a need for any electricity rate increases at this time.
CUC Corporate Secretary Douglas Murray said a string of 12 wooden power poles broke along the Queen’s Highway and that there was ‘a few’ broken poles in other places, but not too much more in the way of damage.
‘We were pretty pleased with the limited amount of damage on the island,’ he said.
As of Tuesday, CUC did not yet have an estimated dollar amount for the damage caused by Gustav.
‘Our licence agreement does allow us to capitalise and write off destroyed assets,’ Mr. Murray said. ‘But this is an accounting treatment that is spread out over time so it has less impact on rates.’
CUC’s transmission and distribution system is largely uninsured, Mr. Murray said, adding that substations are covered by insurance and so are T&D assets within a certain distance of the substations.
But insurance for the rest of the T&D system is price prohibitive, if it can even be purchased at all, Mr. Murray said.
‘Some years it’s not even available.’
With regard to failed poles along Queens Highway, Mr. Murray said there was no way to know for sure why they broke.
‘We can assume the winds were strongest on the island out there,’ he said.
The Cayman Islands Weather Service said the winds along the north coast of Grand Cayman were indeed the strongest associated with Hurricane Gustav here. However, based on data from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, the strongest gusts expected on Grand Cayman were 66 mph.
Mr. Murray said CUC’s distribution lines were designed to withstand 90mph winds and the transmission lines were designed to withstand 110mph winds. Why the distribution lines failed is unknown.
‘We have long runs of lines out there,’ he said. ‘When one pole fails, it puts strain on the other poles. The main issue is windage; the lines act almost like sails and put a lot of strain on the poles.’
Mr. Murray said it could have been a case of isolated high winds gusts or even undetected damage to a pole that caused the problem. The poles along the Queen’s Highway that failed were survivors of Hurricane Ivan, he said.
Despite the failure of the string of poles, CUC was able to maintain power for most of the customers in the area because of its completed transmission loop system. Residents that lost power either Friday night or Saturday morning had it restored by Saturday afternoon.
‘That is when the last customer was connected,’ he said.
Mr. Murray praised the work of the CUC linemen, who were out by dawn the morning after Gustav passed.
‘We have a very high regard for all the operators,’ he said, adding that CUC was pleased with the way its hurricane plan played out for Gustav. ‘When these things come along, we hope they’re a test of the system.’
Cayman Brac update
Despite considerably more damage from Hurricane Gustav, Cayman Brac Power and Light Co. Ltd. moved quickly to restore power to residents of the Sister Islands.
CBP&L General Manager Jonathan Tibbetts said power had been restored to all residents on Cayman Brac by Monday.
‘We initially expected it would take us five to seven days to get everyone back on line,’ he said. ‘But having crews working 20 hours a day made it happen in two days instead of five to seven.’ I can’t praise them enough.’
Mr. Tibbetts praised what he called a phenomenal effort by the employees of CBP&L, and he also acknowledged the assistance of Caribbean Utilities Company and Cable & Wireless in the restoration effort.
Mr. Tibbetts said he still hadn’t caught up on all the sleep he lost.
‘And on top of that, I have a one-week old baby,’ he said, adding that his wife just had a son on 23 August.
Because Gustav came much closer to the Sister Islands than Grand Cayman, it caused considerably more damage to the T&D systems of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Mr. Tibbetts said that on the Brac there were six broken poles, four that were pushed over and about 40 or 50 poles that had broken cross bars. In Little Cayman, he said there were eight broken poles and many others damaged.
None of CBP&L’s vehicles were damaged, but its generation system suffered some water damage when one of its hurricane-rated garage doors blew off and allowed rain to enter part of the plant, Mr. Tibbetts said.
As of Tuesday, power had been restored to all Little Cayman residents except for two along the remote north coast of the island, Mr. Tibbetts said.
‘There are other homes that don’t have power yet [on Little Cayman], but they aren’t occupied right now. All the residents but the two have power though.’
Although he did not have an estimate of the damage, Mr. Tibbetts expected it would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Sister Islands. He said it would have been even more had CUC and Cable and Wireless not donated services and equipment usage.
CBP&L customers do not have to worry about any rate increases because the company’s licence agreement fixed the rate through 2018.
Like CUC, Cayman Brac Power and Light’s transmission and distribution system is not covered by insurance. When the company suffers losses due to events like hurricanes, it has to bear the cost itself.
‘We basically have self-insurance,’ said Mr. Tibbetts. ‘We have funds set aside for contingencies like this.’