Damaged Hydropower cable has nine years left on warranty


May 2, 2019

Alaska Power and Telephone (AP&T) has known that the hydropower cable that connects Haines and Skagway to the Kasidaya hydropower project has been vulnerable to damage for years, predicting the faults that the cable would develop with great accuracy. Still, no steps were taken to provide maintenance.

An average household in Haines or Skagway pays between $200 and $250 a month for power, according to AP&T power operations manager Darren Belisle

“They charge us a lot of money for the electricity we use, and maintenance has to be a part of their budget,” said veteran Haines Borough planning commissioner Rob Goldberg.

“We don’t have any routine maintenance,” Belisle said. “Because it’s hard to do when it’s in such deep water.”

Belisle explained that there are only a few ships in the world capable of dealing with a hydropower cable at that depth, and it costs at least $250,000 to bring one of them here. The 17-mile armored cable is 4.5 inches in diameter and rests below 800 feet of water at the place where the cable is damaged worst.

On March 3, AP&T first lost communication with the Kasidaya plant and realized that some of the cable’s fiber-optics were damaged. The company contacted a remotely operated submarine to assess the damage. It arrived two weeks later, which Belisle said is a fast response time. The submarine found significant damage caused by underwater landslides, which are frequent occurrences in the Taiya River Delta. Since the end of March, AP&T has known that the cable is on the verge of failure.

“Nothing has changed,” said Belisle. Now, AP&T is going through the process of a long and complex contingency plan. AP&T is just beginning to talk to the municipality about other places to relocate the cable.

In 2011, then AP&T operations manager Danny Gonce predicted that one or more faults would develop on the cable within the next 10 years.

“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when our cable is going to fail,” the CVN reported that Gonce said.

When exactly the cable might fail—“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Belisle. “Reading all of the documentation on them, they last from 20 years to 50 years. There’s quite a large gap there,” said Belisle.

The hydropower cable was bought for $6 million in 1998. According to CVN reporting from 2011, the Italian manufacturer that built the cable, Pirrelli, guaranteed it for 30 years. Since then, Pirelli has been taken over by a company called Prysmian, and Prysmian did not respond for comment about the cable’s warranty. The cable is now 21 years old. Belisle estimated that a new cable would cost $7 million.

“If that cable does have an expected life span, then it’s a maintenance item. And if it’s a maintenance issue, it should be replaced in a timely manner,” said Goldberg, “We said it back (in 2011), why don’t you just schedule this and replace it if it’s a maintenance item? But they didn’t do it.”

AP&T’s explanation for not providing cable maintenance was that it was unaffordable and impractical to do so.

If the power cable fails, it will take at least six months to replace it, according to Belisle, meaning that for at least six months, Haines would rely on diesel power.

In 2010, AP&T first proposed to build a hydropower project closer to Haines, on Connelly Lake, which many opposed due to environmental concerns. In 2013, due to the high cost of the project, AP&T scrapped its Connelly Lake plans.


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