Saturday, October 23, 1999

power line break
put Kauai at
energy brink

Spared a rolling blackout,
the island retains a small reserve

By Anthony Sommer
Kauai Correspondent


LIHUE -- Only a quick patch on a ruptured condenser line saved Kauai from a power blackout on Wednesday, Kauai Electric said yesterday.

Kauai Electric made no public announcement of the break when it happened. Nor had the utility announced an explosion last week in the island's largest generating plant at Port Allen, sidelining about 30 percent of Kauai's power supply for at least 60 days.

In addition to the damage caused by the explosion to a 23-megawatt gas turbine, an 8-megawatt turbine has been off-line for scheduled routine maintenance.

The line rupture on Wednesday occured at the generating plant at Amfac/JMB's Lihue Plantation power plant and cut output from 14 to 3 megawatts. Amfac sells excess power produced at its sugar mill to Kauai Electric.

That -- along with the Port Allen reductions -- left Kauai Electric with a total capacity of 52 megawatts, and facing an expected late afternoon peak of 58 megawatts.

Kauai Electric spokeswoman Jenny Fujita said the company had been making plans to institute a rolling blackout, cutting power to every portion of the island in rotating 30-minute segments. They also had been contacting commercial customers, asking them to be prepared to pull the plug on nonessential equipment.

But Lihue Plantation workers were able to patch the broken line quickly and bring their generator on-line before afternoon demand peaked.

The island will have only a small power reserve for the next two months. Fujita said the explosion at the large gas turbine was traced to a stripped bolt and that the blast put a hole in the unit "about the size of an office."

It was the first generator failure on Kauai since 1990.

Kauai Electric recently received the go-ahead from the County Planning Commission to construct a 26-megawatt plant beginning in 2001. Opponents challenged the commission's decision, and the matter is pending in Kauai Circuit Court.

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