US Virgin Islands on track to restore power
After Hurricane Irma destroyed much of St. Thomas and St. John on September 6, 2017, Hurricane Maria pummeled through St. Croix less than 2 weeks later, leaving all of the US Virgin Islands residents in serious disarray. It has been more that 2 months since much of the infrastructure was destroyed on the islands, but restoration of the electrical systems there is moving forward steadily. The Virgin Islands’ Water and Power Authority (WAPA) has released their most current update on the status of the restoration process, and as of November 22, 2017, the outlook is somewhat more promising. The construction of primary circuits is mostly complete, and close to 40% of customers’ electricity in the territory has been restored (approximately 19,000 homes).The electrical system is complicated, and it is important to note that it is necessary for workers to restore the primary circuits on the islands before residents are even able to have power return to their homes. Primary circuits are high voltage lines that feed into a transformer, and secondary circuits, also connected to the same transformer, are utilized to reduce the voltage to safe, required levels for home use. Feeder lines connect from the utility poles to customers’ homes, and since most of these utility poles were destroyed during the hurricanes, the process of restoring power is daunting, especially when considering that much of the infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, was severely damaged, making the process of restoring electricity very challenging.
As of November 18, most of the rebuilding of primary circuits on St. Thomas has been completed, but many broken poles need to be removed before new poles are erected, and this will require quite a few partial and full road closures throughout the week in order to allow work crews to safely and efficiently work in those spaces. Primary circuits are also being repaired on St. Croix, and largely-populated areas there are expected to be restored soon. On St. John, composite utility poles are being put up while waiting for primary circuits to be reconstructed. Composite poles are often constructed of high-strength fiberglass fibers and polyurethane resins that are resistant to termites, rust, and high winds, making them a logical choice for an area that has the potential to suffer through high-wind storms again in the future.
One major concern for work crews is that customers who are running generators have the ability to accidentally send a voltage surge back into the grid, possibly causing a serious threat to those who are working to restore power. As a matter of fact, just last week an off-island lineman was injured after being electrocuted because a customer was running their generator while he was working on the grid. Because of this incident, homeowners who are running generators while workers are restoring power in their neighborhoods stand to have their homes excluded from the process, and won’t have power restored until a later date when conditions are deemed to be safe.