Correction: Previously, this article incorrectly stated that the Japanese company that manufactured the cable is the Sumitomo Corporation. It is Sumitomo Electric.
A submarine power cable replacement, a decade in the making, was celebrated on Jan. 19 with the overseeing electrical co-operative’s staff, community members and sake.
The sake was from representatives of Sumitomo Electric, the Japanese company that manufactured the cable. Attendees toasted to the new cable, and Sumitomo’s Kazuhira Harada even poured some over a section from an opening in the concrete sidewalk of Otis Perkins Park on Lopez Island.
Staff from OPALCO, the local electric co-operative, managed the installation to replace their power cable, first installed in 1977. The cable was close to reaching its maximum age of service and OPALCO staff noticed degradation in 2013.
Others who attended the celebration included San Juan County councilmen, OPALCO Board members, and Elliot Mainzer, the administrator of Bonneville Power Association, which supplies OPALCO power.
“This is a forward-thinking project,” said Mainzer. “It’s a fantastic investment.”
The new cable runs from the Lopez Island submarine cable terminal to the Pear Point terminal on San Juan Island. It provides power as well as fiber to connect to the internet.
Construction to replace the 1977 cable began last September, and power ran through the new cable by early December. Another cable, to provide redundancy to the line, runs next to it and was installed in 1993.
Nearly a decade ago, OPALCO staff started a plan to replace the 1977 cable. That, said OPALCO Engineer Joel Meitzner, set off a detailed process that included creating a conceptual design; estimating the cost; obtaining the funds; studying the ocean floor with sonar scans and ROVs to ensure minimal seafloor change; a roughly year-long construction of the actual cable; and then finally, installation.
“It is a long process,” said Meitzner, “so you break it into 50 small, manageable projects.”
The nearly 13,000-foot cable in the ocean was installed using equipment similar to a crane, said Meitzner. That part of the cable weighed nearly 440,000 pounds.
Meitzner even slept in a sleeping bag on the barge that held equipment to install the cable for five days, just to ensure the project’s success.
“It’s cold out there on the water,” he said, “[but] part of OPALCO’s responsibility is to safeguard our investment.”
The entire project cost $15 million and was paid for by a United States Department of Agriculture loan.
The cable has a peak usage of 60 megawatts, said Meitzner, and will last from 60 to 80 years, even as more people move to the islands and require more power. Today, San Juan Island uses 28 megawatts at its peak.
The cable, said Meitzner, will also save co-operative members money now, as well as in the future.
“This is an asset that was activated in 2017 that may go into the next century,” he said.
Orcas Power Light & Cooperative is the local member-owned cooperative electric utility, serving more than 11,000 members on 20 islands in San Juan County since 1937. For more information, visit www.opalco.com.