Preliminary work is underway this week on a new power cable to the mainland as Maritime Electric looks to deal with growing demand for electricity.
Despite uncertainty about funding for the new cable, Maritime Electric spokeswoman Griffin said it is critical infrastructure for P.E.I. and with growing demand for electricity, including as a heat source, it would irresponsible not to plan to have it in place for 2016.
“I think we can’t afford not to start it.”
Divers from Marenco Engineering left Borden-Carleton Monday morning to do preliminary work in the Northumberland Strait ahead of a surveying crew in June.
While they are in the strait, the divers will use a jet probe with a high-pressure pump that shoots water out of the end to push away anything on top of the bedrock.
That work will help determine a path for the survey crew.
Wally MacDonald, president of Marenco Engineering, said the preliminary work will look at the depth of bedrock on the strait’s floor.
“We’d like to find a route where we can bury the cable three or four feet and to do that you want to avoid bedrock.”
MacDonald, who has been involved in work on the existing cables over the years, said they are in good shape and the key to the type P.E.I. has been using is to make sure they don’t get overloaded.
“The cables have had a couple of problems but they’ve been isolated and we think there still may be a fair bit of life left in them.”
The two options for a new cable include running it undersea from Borden-Carleton to Cape Tormentine or through the Confederation Bridge.
P.E.I. gets power from the mainland through two 100-megawatt cables that run west of the Confederation Bridge from Murray Corner, N.B. to Fernwood.
Last year the provincial government issued a request for proposals to get updated costs for the entire project, which had previously been estimated to cost about $90 million.
The request for proposals sought estimates on a single cable with a 180-megawatt capacity or two separate cables.
There are three stages to the project that will see exploratory work done this spring and environmental impact assessment and permit applications completed in 2014-2015.
If approved, the construction and installation of a new line will be finished in 2016.
Griffin said it takes a lot of time to install a new cable so it’s important to get the preliminary work started now to determine what option the utility will recommend and Maritime Electric is trying to decide which option is best.
“The preliminary work stage is really, really important at this point and we’ll know by the end of the summer what we’re going to be recommending.”
The original cables were installed in 1977 and while problems with them have been rare, there was a major interruption in 1997 when a ship’s anchor severed one of them.
Maritime Electric also had to deal with insulating oil leaking out of one of the cables in 2012.
Who will pay for the new cable has been an ongoing issue for years with the provincial government saying it was waiting for the federal government to help share the costs.
It has become a more pressing concern in recent years, including this winter as Maritime Electric saw power interruptions to certain businesses to prevent a blackout across the province.
Griffin said Maritime Electric is partnering with the provincial government in the exploratory stage and she expected to have a better of the idea of the total cost for that stage later in the summer.
A crew of four divers from Marenco Engineering load a fishing boat with gear as Maritime Electric begins preliminary work looking at options for routes a new underwater power cable could take.
©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel