Episodic power interruptions in North Side, Rum Point and Frank Sound are likely to persist in Grand Cayman for another several weeks while the Caribbean Utilities Company replaces damaged equipment in a new transmission line.
The company said the new cross-North Sound line, completed early last year, had experienced a series of problems in late 2012. Engineering checks ultimately revealed faulty equipment in the Rum Point substation, which would require another month-and-a-half to repair.
“We do not anticipate further outages although we are operating in a lower reliability mode,” said CUC spokeswoman Pat Bynoe-Clarke, explaining the interruptions and saying the substation would operate “in an open mode until the equipment can be replaced in approximately eight weeks, at which time the system will be back to normal.”
Area residents have recently complained of outages and interruptions during the past several weeks, lasting anywhere from minutes to hours, while businesses managers say refrigeration has been jeopardised and customers left bewildered as they are plunged into darkness. Frank Sounds’s new Clifton Hunter High School has been plagued by at least four outages recently, leaving classrooms without air-conditioning among other things,
“It happened a couple of times during the holidays,” said Over the Edge owner Philippe Gros. “Some of them short and some of them longer. It can be frustrating.”
He described a recent 7pm outage at the popular Old Man Bay watering hole, saying “the restaurant was backed up with tourists and it was difficult. We had to change over to propane gas and there was a large blue cloud in the restaurant”.
“We are seeing CUC crews and trucks out here, and we have been told that there is a loop, a cable, across North Sound,” he added. “It’s been an issue.”
Fellow restaurateur, Kaibo Beach Bar and Grill owner Daniel Petts, said he had learned his lesson long ago, installing his own generator after Hurricane Ivan left him without power for three months in 2004.
“We’re one of the only restaurants with our own generator, and it’s been like bringing a moth to a flame,” he said, describing customers flocking to the bar after outages render his competition helpless. Fire regulations require that gas supplies be halted when power fails.
“When the power goes down, no one can do anything,” he said. The outages “have been quite frequent lately, maybe once a month, but we just fire up our generator and within five minutes go right back to work”.
An earlier power interruption last year, he said, had proved “a major disaster, blowing out the entire computer system” and taking down his point of sale function. “It cost me $15,000 to replace,” he said, but expressed satisfaction with his beach bar generator, insulating him from recent problems.
Ms Bynoe-Clarke said CUC had completed the new transmission loop “to serve the eastern districts in early 2012 with the completion of the line from Frank Sound to Rum Point”.
“The benefit of the loop”, she said, was to provide area residents “continuous electricity supply via an alternate source in the event that any one section of the transmission system is faulted or taken out of service for maintenance”.
Explaining the background to the problems, she said, “late last year we had three occasions in which faults affected two sections of the loop and caused interruptions to customers”. Only “over the past few weeks”, she said, had inspectors located the faults, identifying the flawed equipment “while carrying out other preventative maintenance”.
“This equipment has been removed from service,” at the Rum Point substation, she said, “and replacements have been ordered. We are currently operating the transmission loop in an open mode,” pending repairs and a mid-March restoration of service.
North Side Member of the Legislative Assembly Ezzard Miller called on the utility provider to remedy the situation quickly.
“We have far too many failures for this day and age,” Mr. Miller lamented. “We have been willing to tolerate high prices at CUC, but now we have had a number of outages, and are told it’s because of the loop, the submersible cable coming around from Rum Point.
“The people of North Side are complaining,” Mr. Miller said, “and while CUC has said it is adding generation, I can tell you they need to work on their reliability.”