Block Island to go back to diesel-generated power temporarily

Thu, 11/04/2021 - 1:30pm
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Note: As of Friday afternoon, Nov. 6, the cable splice scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed until further notice. Therefore, the Block Island Power Company will  not be switching over to its diesel generators this weekend.

Cable update: At this time, National Grid is planning to conduct its cable splice starting on Saturday, November 6. This means the Block Island Power Company will be utilizing its diesel generators for the duration of the splicing operation and for a few days afterwards while the splice is tested.
It’s a big step after NGRID was forced to abandon its cable reburial project last spring after the conduit installed into a drilled tunnel about 30 feet beneath the ocean floor became clogged with “debris’ and couldn’t be cleared in time for the tourist season.
A representative from National Grid told The Block Island Times when the equipment for the project was arriving this fall that contractors experienced in sewer line clearing would be responsible for removing the debris from the conduit with a jet pump. That work has evidently been performed and a camera was sent through the pipe to make sure it was okay.
The new cable section was threaded through the conduit this week after some time off during the Nor’ Easter on October 26 and 27 and the smaller storm on October 30. Crews pulled the barge back into place on Tuesday so work could resume.

In the years since the island has been receiving power through the cable from the mainland, customers have gotten used to a more stable and steady stream of electricity, and may have become complacent when it comes to surge protection and back-up battery systems for home appliances. Make sure your equipment and appliances are protected or unplug them altogether if you will be away.

Voltage Conversion project

After years of contemplation and planning, BIPCo is ready to go ahead and start its voltage conversion project in 2022. BIPCo President Jeffery Wright presented a proposed timeline for the project at the October 28 meeting of the Block Island Utility District Board of Commissioners. The conversion project will span several years and has been broken out into five phases.
Phase one will be completed in 2022 and will involve converting the substation, the New Harbor Circuit, and a portion of each of the other circuits. Other circuits will be upgraded over the coming five to six years. The cost for phase one is estimated at $1.3 million and will be financed with a CFC loan if approved. The Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission will also need to approve the loan as it will be long-term
debt.

The conversion will take the transmission system from a very outdated 2.4 KV Delta system to 4.16 KV WYE system, essentially doubling the capacity of the system, which in certain areas of the island, especially the New Harbor circuit, is almost exhausted. The new system will also improve voltage regulation and reduce line losses.
Electrical Vehicle charging station
William Young has made a generous offer to the Block Island community – the donation of a “Level 3” charging station for electric vehicles. BIPCo President Jeffery Wright told the Utility District Board of Commissioners that he and office manager Tracy Fredericks had received many, many phone calls over the summer from visitors looking for a charging station for their vehicles.

Wright also said he got many phone calls from owners of rental homes concerned about tenants charging their vehicles and the resultant electric costs.

Young’s idea is to donate half the cost, approximately $15,000, himself, and raise the balance from other donors. Under his proposal, Young envisioned splitting the revenue between BIPCo and a “revolving non-profit” with the bulk of the revenue going to BIPCO so the charger can be properly maintained.
What seemed like a simple, generous, and practical proposal quickly became much more complex, as Wright said that for BIPCo to operate and charge customers to charge their vehicles, the utility would have to create, file, and have accepted, a new tariff specifically for the
charging station by the Rhode Island PUC. He added that a complicating factor was that the PUC specifically has prohibited National Grid, the largest electric utility operating in Rhode Island, from owning EV charging stations, although he thought that could be challenged in today’s environment.

Others pointed out that since BIPCo is now a not-for-profit itself, it could not charge an excess amount above its costs with which to make a donation to another not-for-profit organization. Creative minds were certain that something could be worked out with another organization that could retain ownership of the charging station, pay BIPCo for the power it uses, and donate the profits to another organization.
Then there is the matter of where to have the charging station. With a level three charging station it takes 40 minutes to an hour to charge a vehicle. So what do you do while the vehicle is charging – go for a walk, shopping, or something else? Is that hour enough time to go to the beach or eat lunch and be back in time to retrieve your car while another customer perhaps is waiting to charge up next?
And, then there are the zoning and planning board regulations of the Town of New Shoreham, which most likely do not address the matter and may need to be amended.
Wright says he hopes to have a charging station up and running, somehow, by next summer in order to accommodate visitors with electric vehicles.