Cable blamed for outage

Photo from KIUC news release

Damaged cable: A damaged cable caused the fault that led to the island wide outage on Sunday, July 21.

Photo from KIUC news release

Worker inspection: Workers at the Kapaia Power Station inspect damage from Sunday’s trip event.

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.”

  1. randy kansas July 23, 2019 6:24 am Reply

    so….in order “go green”….we have to wait for wood chips to dry out, hope the sun shines, not cook, not take hot showers and also reduce our daily activity and island commerce;

    no thanks and thank goodness for the diesel engine they found….


  2. james July 23, 2019 6:47 am Reply

    A well managed company would have at least 2 spare parts for each and every component of their machinery on hand; they would not have to wait for spare parts to come from the mainland. They know we live on an Island, correct? Very amateurish. Let’s get professional with the running or our co-op.

  3. harry oyama July 23, 2019 1:10 pm Reply

    Cable that is 17 years old, so why didn’t the company replace it a long time ago? Seem like Bissell needs to get fired for this outage happened on his watch. Plain and simple, most power generating facility has a routine maintenance schedule and should have known about ageing equipment that are being used beyond their expiration dates or he and his company are just plain incompetent to run this facility.

    In the Air Force, although some electronic equipment may be over 15 years old, we have a routine time based checks on all components and measure its deteriation rates and replace those that are beyond its service date. Apparently this was never done and to try and blame it on “mother nature” is just another excuse to sweep the problem under the rug.

    Bissell should have known to prioritize each generating station and work on the more serious one before conducting down times on others that can wait. He apparently just let it run down and cause and island wide shutdown having negative results on both consumers and business alike. I would sue this company for any losses that might have occurred, for lost internet, food spoilage and other related issues

    Sounds like this utility is being run by corrupt officials of Pureto Rico.

  4. Patrick H Flores July 23, 2019 2:52 pm Reply

    In response to James who labels the KIUC management “amateurish” perhaps he should run for a seat on the board of directors so that we can benefit from his expertise. I think this utility has a sound management and operations team in place. We do live on an island, unlike on the mainland where a truck or train can deliver quickly, but that’s part of what we give up to live here. A person who isn’t content with utility service is always free to invest in a stand alone solar/battery system.

  5. jake July 23, 2019 7:21 pm Reply

    Maybe KIUC should start hiring people who know what they’re doing instead of trying to keep idiot cousins and nephews employed.

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