PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County Utility District has authorized emergency repairs of the Swansonville Road Underground Power Feeder Line in Port Ludlow.
Because of several recent electrical power failures affecting the greater Port Ludlow area, the three commissioners agreed unanimously on Wednesday to address the issue immediately.
“Last weekend our staff did the first 600-foot section because that’s where the faults had been,” said former General Manager Larry Dunbar. “We’ve hit the initial problem head-on.”
It’s was Dunbar’s last official act as general manager.
After the agreement, commissioners conducted an executive session and then emerged to say that Dunbar, who had been hired in April, was not a good fit.
He left on Thursday.
The emergency resolution allows repair work to move forward to replace the remaining 6,000 feet of buried cable.
“Because of the recent failures, our reliability to Port Ludlow has fallen, especially as the weather has gotten colder,” Dunbar said.
“That’s not the level of service that the PUD should provide. We wouldn’t be able to serve the load in peak conditions. I don’t think there are other options.”
Jimmy Scarborough, Jefferson County PUD interim electrical engineering supervisor, said the cable failure is due to aging infrastructure.
The cables are buried directly in the dirt, about 3-1/2 feet deep. The original installation work was done by Puget Sound Energy.
“We have two sections with cables from the mid-’80s and the other section is from the mid-’70s,” Scarborough said. “The type of insulation in these cables is called Cross-Linked Polyethylene, or XLPE. Over time, you get what’s called ‘water trees,’ which are little cracks in the insulation.
“When water ingresses into the cable, it creates a path from the conductor which is in the center of the cable to the outside where there’s a shielding, where there’s a ground. Then you have a short. When there’s a short, the cable explodes. That’s what we call a fault.”
Scarborough brought along a piece of the cable that showed scorching damage.
“This is probably one of the worst ones we’ve had,” he said. “This is a major fault.”
He said that the failed cable is 35 years old and has surpassed its expected life. The newer cable’s insulation is rubber and is not prone to treeing.
“We started back in the summer to replace this,” he said. “At the intersection with Beaver Valley Road and Swansonville Road we installed about 2,700 feet of conduit in vaults, pulling in new cable. After this faulting occurred, it was happening between our existing switch cabinet and the first vault.
“We isolated that section. This week, our crews pulled new cable from the switch cabinet from the first vault and they cut existing cable and brought it into that vault, and made the connections.
“On Wednesday, we energized that section and it’s holding. It doesn’t mean that we are in the clear. It just means that, for now, it’s holding.”
Scarborough said because of the declaration, the project can begin immediately, with ordering of parts, permitting, and securing bids from contractors.
He projects that the work could be completed in two to three months.
Wet weather and soggy soils could delay the project.
Scarborough estimates that there are 350 miles of underground cable in the system and a good portion of it is old.
Commissioner Wayne King wanted to make sure there was enough room in the conduit for fiber in the future and he was assured that was part of the plan.
“When an event like this happens, we isolate it and switch it so we can get as many people back online as possible,” Scarborough said.
“Right now the section of cable that has been giving us the most trouble has been replaced,” he said. “ It doesn’t mean this won’t happen again someplace else.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]