LIHUE — Islandwide power outages that started Sunday afternoon were caused by a frayed cable in the main generator at a Kauai Island Utility Cooperative facility.
According to the electricity supplier’s president and CEO, David Bissell, the power system failure was triggered by a faulty 17-year-old cable inside the island’s largest generator at the Kapaia facility in Lihue.
A KIUC press release Monday afternoon estimated that repairs will be complete by Friday. Bissell said rolling blackouts, which cut electricity supplies in homes and businesses across the island on Sunday and Monday, will be necessary at least until this morning and could continue through much of the week.
For now, Kauai residents can expect 30-minute, temporary power outages every two to three hours during normal daytime and evening hours.
“The 27.5 megawatt combustion turbine, the largest unit in KIUC’s generation fleet, suffered a cable failure, causing a fault and an arc flash in the internal 13.8kv bus bars for the generator breaker,” the KIUC news release said. “After fault, the generator breaker tripped open. This resulted in a cascading effect on other generation sources and caused a 2.5 hour islandwide outage that was resolved around 5:00 p.m. yesterday.”
Although power was restored and grid operations were maintained during Sunday’s evening peak usage period, rolling blackouts were necessary late in the evening and throughout Monday, according to the press release.
Contributing to the shortage of generation were three units at the Port Allen generating station that were already out of service for either repair or scheduled maintenance.
In an interview late Monday afternoon, Bissell said KIUC workers were able to get a large diesel generator capable of handling about 10% of the island’s peak energy load up and running at the Port Allen facility. The diesel unit should help make up for the absence of the plant’s main generator — the third largest on the island —which broke down about a week ago.
Repairs on the Port Allen generator have been delayed until custom-made replacement parts can be manufactured and shipped from the mainland, according to Bissell. If everything goes as planned, Bissell said the unit could be operational within a couple of days, but that process could be prolonged by a number of external factors.
He cited complications inherent in long-distance shipping and said the generator is well over a decade old, meaning the parts may not fit perfectly once they arrive.
“Logistics out here in the middle of the ocean can always go haywire,” he said. “We’re hopeful but cautious.”
On top of the recent mechanical issues plaguing the KIUC facilities, uncooperative weather and low electricity production by other energy producers on the island have exacerbated the power shortage.
Until late yesterday afternoon, a biomass energy facility in Koloa, responsible for supplying about 10% of the island’s electricity, was not operating at maximum capacity because of what Bissell described as excess “fuel stock moisture,” which basically means that the wood burned to generate energy was soaked from rainwater. KIUC’s latest news release Monday said that problem had been resolved.
Prolonged cloudy skies have made things difficult as well, cutting down on the amount of energy captured and stored by solar panels.
“Mother nature hasn’t helped us,” Bissell said, explaining that the relative lack of sunshine over the past week has depleted KIUC power reserves.
Weather forecasters are predicting continued cloudy weather, at least through Wednesday, meaning that KIUC will continue to struggle to replenish its batteries, even as engineers work to get the Kapaia Power Station generator back up and running.
KIUC encourages its users to conserve energy in the meantime. Limiting use of heavy appliances such as stoves, washers and dryers during peak times would be especially helpful. Air conditioners should be set to higher temperatures or turned off.
“We appreciate our members’ cooperation and continued patience,” stated Bissell. “Our crews are working hard to bring our generation units back on line safely and quickly.”