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Drought Hurting WAPA Power Generation

The months-long drought affecting the Virgin Islands is hurting the territory’s electrical transmission and distribution systems, according to the V.I. Water and Power Authority. The systems are affected by fallen tree branches and the buildup of salt air residue on power lines, switches, insulators and other hardware exposed to the elements.

On Thursday, WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said in a statement from WAPA that the continued drought has caused branches and limbs on some of the territory’s larger trees to become dry and brittle. As a result, they are breaking and impacting the primary electrical lines across the territory.

“We are seeing this trend more and more along the west end of St. Croix where the system is regularly impacted by falling tree branches and limbs,” Hodge said, adding, that feeders 6B, 8B, 9B and 10B are being most affected by the drought effects.

On St. Thomas, where there is less of an issue of dead tree limbs impacting the system, the Ridge Road feeder and feeder 9D have been most affected by these incidents, WAPA said. The impact of broken branches and limbs with the system causes surges back to the power plants, which result in short-lived outages on the feeders, according to WAPA. “There have been a general increase in the number of electrical service interruptions over the last few months,” Hodge said, adding that line department crews dispatched to investigate “are finding the downed tree limbs and branches to be the cause of these service interruptions.”

Hodge also said the continued lack of significant rainfall activity is causing a buildup of salt air residue on the system’s infrastructure. “The lack of regular rainfall, which ordinarily acts as a flushing agent for the electrical distribution system, has resulted in a build-up of residue and corrosion, not only on the primary lines but on other electrical system hardware along the distribution routes in both island districts. The crews in the field are reporting evidence of the residue buildup on our systems as a result of the lack of any meaningful rainfall activity.” Also on St. Thomas, Hodge added, there have been issues with a couple of WAPA’s generating units that have contributed to short-lived power outages.

Hodge said plant personnel have recently noticed some particulates in the fuel supply, contributing to Unit 25 falling offline. “While the unit is more efficient, it is also more sensitive and has been reacting to the particulates that have been discovered in our fuel supply. The effect on the unit causes it to fall offline and later be restarted. When Unit 25 fails and has to be restarted or another unit has to be brought online to meet power demand, we are faced with the short electrical service interruptions,” he said.
Hodge apologized for the problems and encouraged residents to continue reporting service interruptions by contacting WAPA at 773-2250 on St. Croix; 774-1424 on St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island; or through its website www.viwapa.vi.

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