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The Lowmans Bay Power Plant. (Photo: VINLEC)
The Lowmans Bay Power Plant. (Photo: VINLEC)
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CEO of VINLEC Vaughn Lewis says he hopes the company will not see any more island-wise blackouts as it waits to fully repair equipment that caused hours-long power outages on two successive Sundays.

“I hope not. And that’s why we were working during the week to ensure that we got back some of the redundancy that we lost because our system is usually stable,” Lewis said on WE FM on Sunday when St. Vincent had a two-hour power outage.

There was an island-wide power outage on June 2 that lasted 4 hours and 15 minutes for some consumers.

Asked if the problem could have been anticipated and avoided, Lewis said:

“Well, I would say you learn from various incidents. It is the very first time we have had an insulator failure and a flashover on one of our switch gears that hadn’t been in a flood or something like that.

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Lewis said that the blackout on June 2 was the first island-wide outage in almost three years.

“And, unfortunately, we experienced the second one this [morning],” he said.

“The failure last week, the failure occurred because of a flashover. That’s an insulation failure on our 33 KV switchgear at Lowmans Bay. It is something that we haven’t seen or experienced before. But it did create some problems,” Lewis said.

He said VINLEC, a state-owned company that is the sole commercial generator of electricity in the country, has a lot of redundancy built into its system. “So, we were able to isolate that side of the switchgear and continue to operate the island. 

“So, we had some repairs to do. We are waiting on the suppliers to fully repair one aspect of the switchgear but we were able to repair another aspect of the switchgear and we had a switching procedure this morning to re-energize that aspect of the switchgear. And we have some problems with the switching. That’s what led to the second outage.

“I don’t know if I’m as clear as mud but that’s the most concise way I could explain it.”

Lewis said that once VINLEC gets back in service the side of the switchgear that it repaired, “we should have a good level of reliability until the final aspect of the switchgear is repaired by the suppliers.”

Lewis said the generators at the Lowman Bay Power Plant are all functioning.

“… and then the generators feed out 11,000 volts switch year and then they go through some transformers. And they go to a 33 KV switchgear. And the 33KV voltage is our highest voltage.”

Lewis said the 33 KV system is used to link all of the company’s power plants.

“So, Cane Hall is connected to Lowmans Bay, is connected to South Rivers, Cumberland, and the Kingstown substation through the 33 KV network. Last week, what happened is that there was a failure on a part of the switchgear that connected Cane Hall directly to Lowmans and that caused the system failure.”

Lewis said that VINLEC isolated that failed part and was able to reconnect all of its networks through another side of the switchgear.

“And we are working to repair the side that is out. We repaired part of it. And we were about to bring it back when we had the switching issue.”

Lewis said that once the company re-energised the side of the switchgear that it repaired on Sunday,  “we will be in a comfortable area. 

“What happens because of the size and the importance of Cane Hall and Lowmans Bay, we have a ring system where we make sure that there are multiple parts of connection connecting the stations. 

“Before the repairs were done, we were on one connection. Today, after we get the system back and re-energize the repair side, we will have two connections back. So that will give us a lot more comfort than we had operating last week.”

The chief executive said the switchgear “is sort of like the heart of the electrical network. And you don’t visit and check the bus bars frequently because the parts in there are supposed to last a lifetime. 

“And every time you do that you are potentially creating an outage just to examine it. So, we don’t usually go in and check the busbars. We would pull the breakers out and we will service them. But the busbar section is not something that we would normally do.”

Lewis said VINLEC has had switchgear in place at its Cane Hall station since the 1970s. 

“And the busbar has been in place there and we’ve never had an issue there. The switchgear at Lowman’s Bay, the 33 KV switchgear that’s only been there for 18 years,” he said.

“However, after experiencing this problem, what we realise is that we would have to increase the frequency in which we do inspection because we are seeing something that we have never seen before or expected.”

Lewis noted that manufacturers advise on the frequency at which equipment should be checked. 

“But sometimes if you experience more failures than anticipated by the manufacturer, you would have to do more frequent checks to make sure that everything is okay. 

“So, what I would say is that after that failure we experienced last week, we would have to put a system in place where we inspect the bus bar, isolate it and check it more frequently than we do our other switchgear,” Lewis said. 

He said that when he joined VINLEC, there used to be system failures multiple times a year.

“Now, we have them probably every two and a half years on average, for various reasons, some unforeseen like last week,” Lewis said. 

“I have good confidence in my people. Things don’t always go perfectly, but we should be in a good place by the end of the evening,” Lewis said.  “… every time you have a system failure it’s a serious issue. And I know it’s a concern for a number of people…”

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  1. That was longggggg and painful to read could have been explained in one chapter but alas I’m not a journalist, what a longgggg read.

    It’s ok know my comment won’t be published never is


  2. well, are you disappointed or delighted? With as low a tolerance for reading and for detail as you have, perhaps it’s time to celebrate your wisdom in choosing to not be journalist…


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