One of four Vineyard undersea cables compromised

Eversource yet to provide details of what happened.

25
Generators brought to the Vineyard for Eversource. The generators are meant to help offset a failed undersea cable. — Rich Saltzberg

Updated July 21

One of four undersea electrical distribution cables that serve Martha’s Vineyard failed on Friday, July 16, causing a spate of brownouts across the Island. In a release limited to Island officials, Eversource stated repairs to the cable will be done “over the coming weeks.”

A utility official also wrote that the company is sending generators to the Vineyard. 

“To help ensure reliability for residents, businesses, and visitors while we make the necessary repairs to the submarine cable, we are taking the extra precaution of bringing 15 extra backup generators to Martha’s Vineyard,” Eversource official Ronit Goldstein wrote. “These extra generators will be able to provide 28 MW of backup generation to the Island if needed, and will be strategically placed at the Tisbury landfill, near our Vineyard Haven substation, and near the Oak Bluffs DPW facility.”

Eversource hasn’t offered any idea about what caused the cable failure, and stated it is “assessing.” Eversource didn’t return repeated calls by The Times following the brownout, and responded to detailed email questions about the cable failure with a statement that didn’t encompass many of the questions posed. 

In an email to The Times, Eversource spokesman William Hinkle stated that 2,250 people lost power in the brownout, but that Eversource restored their power in less than five minutes. 

“We are currently assessing the location of the fault,” Hinkle wrote, “which could be along the cable or at an existing splice. There are many moving pieces as we continue to work toward making the necessary repairs as quickly as safely possible, which we believe could be complete in eight to 10 weeks, weather permitting. Next steps include bringing in a diver to further inspect the cable and pinpoint the fault location, and eventually a barge to pull the cable up to make repairs. The logistics for both of these are still being finalized. “

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) was unable to provide details about the cable failure, and hasn’t received requests from Vineyard officials for assistance, according to MEMA spokesman Christopher Besse. The U.S. Coast Guard’s District 1 isn’t involved in matters related to the cable, and could provide no information on it, according to Petty Officer Ryan Noel.

The cable in question makes landfall on West Chop, Tisbury Fire Chief Greg Leland told The Times. However, Chief Leland said he couldn’t comment further about the cable.

Cables 91, 97, and 75 land in West Chop, while cable No. 99 lands on East Chop. According to a slideshow presentation created by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s climate action task force energy working group, three of the four cables are “near or beyond their design life.” Each cable transmits a 23-kilovolt load, according to an MVC slide. 

Martha’s Vineyard Commission member Ben Robinson tweeted concern about the cables in response to The Times’ initial story. 

“The age of the cables servicing the Vineyard has been a topic of concern at the MVC climate action task force, and further underscores the need to stand up a strong grid to meet the electrification needs of the Vineyard as we move away from fossil fuels,” Robinson wrote. 

In 2019 Eversource was planning to build a battery facility in Oak Bluffs to offset the need for backup generators, and for insurance against failure of any of the submarine cables to the Vineyard. Despite reaching an agreement with Oak Bluffs regarding the facility, several officials have told The Times Eversource has abandoned the idea in favor of sinking another undersea cable. Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Nelson Wirtz said it was his understanding that it was an economic decision.

“The capacity of that facility wasn’t going to be worth the expenditure of money,” Wirtz said.

Wirtz said the downed cable was concerning in light of the seasonal electrical draw underway.

“It’s a problem because of the numbers of people here, and the high demand,” he said. 

In the past, the Vineyard’s submarine cables have been damaged by an anchoring accident. In 1980, according to court records, the Steamship Authority ferry Naushon had a boiler emergency, and dropped anchor and wound up dragging its 3,450-pound anchor into a cable crossing. The anchor damaged the cables, and cut power to the Vineyard. 

Reporter Brian Dowd contributed to this story.

25 COMMENTS

  1. When is the “back-up” police dept and Board of Selectmen arriving for Tisbury, after the “failure” of present ones?

    • James– there will be plenty of articles about the Tisbury police department for you to whine about.
      Got anything to say about the power line failing ?

  2. I am curious what percentage of the Island’s power need can these generators provide? If all the cables went bad, how bad would it be?

    • The island should have enough generation capacity on island to meet 80%+ of peak load.
      If my memory serves me right less than twenty years ago the island exported power to the mainland in both the summer and the winter. Like the Island the Cape had a lot electric heat.
      Unfortunately diesel generated electricity is very expensive. That is why power on Cuttyhunk is $.50 a kWh and on Naushon $1.00 (even though they have a large solar array).

      My current guess is that the island has less than 40% back up generation capacity.

  3. Martha’s Vineyard Perils of Renewables and Offshore Wind

    Thursday, July 22, 2021, Michael Shellenberger will be presenting about the perils of renewables and offshore wind from 5-7 pm.
    St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Edgartown, Massachusetts

    (34 North Summer St, Edgartown)

    Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance will be hosting the open Town Hall event

    “One of the country’s largest off shore wind farm’s is about to be built off of the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. There is no doubt this will disrupt the fishing industry, and countless maritime animals. Maine just imposed a halt to any off shore wind. While you and I may think this all sounds ludicrous, to State House leaders, its a key point to their environmental agenda.”
    “On July 22 at 5pm, Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance will be hosting an open Town Hall event on the subject of the proposed wind farm off of Martha’s Vineyard. Our special guest for this event will be Michael Shellenberger, author of Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All and a noted expert on nuclear energy and climate change. Shellenberger is one of the foremost authorities in his field and has made many media appearances over the years on the subject, including the The Colbert Report, debating Ralph Nader on Crossfire, and being named a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment.””

    • Mass Fiscal Alliance is a dark-money group shilling for the fossil fuel industry. They’re an extremist right wing organization. Dont be fooled by their “concern” for anything except Big Oil and $$$$

      • Spot on. Shellenberger is a self-serving shill who apparently doesn’t qualify to be considered a legitimate scientist.

  4. Let me point out something here for those who are opposed to renewable energy .
    If you look around the island, you will see a significant percentage of private houses with solar arrays on their roof or in their yards. There are also larger arrays at most capped landfills, at the farm in Katama, and various other places, like Cronigs.
    Guess what they were doing ? They are producing electricity and feeding it into the local grid. We all know that are not producing at night, ( the wind turbines might be ) but during the summer on hot sunny days, they are producing power and putting it into the grid during peak demand hours. These 15 generators that will be making noise and drinking diesel fuel are not coming here for free. That cost will be passed on to our electric bills.
    Time to thank everyone who has solar on their house, the towns that have installed large arrays and the businesses that have paid for some portion of our electrical infrastructure.
    Without their contribution, the number of generators coming here could have been 30 or more.

    • One can be in favor of renewable energy and still think an offshore wind farm is a bad idea.

      For example, nobody has ANY idea how the installation might affect currents, which in turn could affect the movements of sand up and down the beaches. Wasque is already suffering a massive erosion problem, and doing construction might make it worse (or could turn it around, but at the expense of some other beach.)

      Speak in favor of it if you like, but it’s not correct to imply that it’s purely sunshine and butterflies and zero chance of any downside. You don’t know, because it’s the first one.

      I think there’s far fewer unknowns in deploying more and more rooftop solar panels, and there’s enough money tied up in this wind farm thing to put a dozen of those panels onto every main house, guest house, hot house, hen house, and out house on the Vineyard… and all the garages and sheds, too… and STILL have enough dough left over to open two yacht clubs, a law firm, and a roadside taco stand.

      • Kevin– you have a good point.
        I am not so sure that erosion would be much of a problem, but there are certainly unknown environmental consequences of putting these thing up.
        But let me address your math,
        At first, I though you were exaggerating, so I did the actual math;

        A 10 kw system for a house cost ( before subsidies) about $30,000
        The wind farm is about $3 billion.
        That means you could put solar on 100,000 houses for the price of the windfarm
        that WOULD cover all houses, garages and chicken coops on the vineyard with money left over to put miles of bike paths in and give every resident of the vineyard who wanted one an e bike . I would rather see that than a yacht club and a law firm– but if the taco’s were free— 😉
        That many solar panels would also produce 1,000 MW of electricity
        verses the 800 MW projected from the wind farm…
        Thanks for the enlightening comment.

        • Bottom line is the wind farm, is not only ugly, but not cost efficient? Huh, who would have thought having two electrical production systems, one to back up the other, would be efficient?

        • Don,

          I think you meant 10 MW/year, so let’s translate that into $$. Subsidies for photovoltaic solar systems are 22% thru 2022. Unless congress extends the subsidy period, it goes away. For argument sake, let’s assume it is extended. Let’s assume the cost of a KWH on MV is $.20/kwh and the average home uses 1000 kwh/month average over a year. So that’s $200/month or $2400/year. At a net cost to the homeowner of roughly $24,000 ($30,000 x .78), that’s 10 years of electric cost upfront to install a system. Is that a good deal…some would say yes, I’m guessing most would say no. And if one has to borrow the $24,000, then the economics get worse. And what is the life of the system? Is it 10, 15, 20, 25 years? And what will it cost to replace the system in the future? Bottom line…free energy is not free and it is not cheap! All types of energy have a role in our future (in my opinion, nuclear could be the major contributor, but that’s a debate for another time), but one should know the costs before blindly forging ahead.

          • Bill– I think I am accurate with the MW comparison.
            V-1 rates their project at 800 mw.
            100,000 solar arrays with an output of 10kw each = 1,000 mw.
            Apples to apples comparison.

            I intentionally left out the subsidy factor because it is not actually reducing the overall cost– someone still pays for it.
            Of course you are correct about the costs.
            There are many variables that need to be considered before the installation of any system.
            The only form of energy that is cheap is conservation.
            Thanks for doing a thorough analysis of the considerations and costs.
            I also agree with you about nuclear– the scale of our energy usage world wide cannot be met by renewables in any reasonable time frame at a reasonable cost with reasonable protections of the local environments where mining and manufacturing occur.
            Pebble bed reactors seem like a good alternative to me ,
            (but that’s a debate for another time)–
            https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/pebble-bed-reactors

  5. The 1980 ferry cable snag reminded me of an experience my father and I had down in Maine at Monhegan Island in the late summer of 1977 on his sailboat the Patience. We anchored for the night in the little harbor between the main island and Manana Island. In the morning, I couldn’t get the anchor up so my father told me to use the deck winch. I winched the bow down further and further in the water, with no movement of the anchor, whatsoever. The locals were watching with great amusement and finally one rowed out and told us we had obviously hooked the cable going across to Manana. We had to hire a local diver to release the anchor from the cable and off we went.

  6. Look at the size of those things– for anyone looking to book a ferry —–35 of them got here in less than 5 days.. And then they will have to go back.
    I don’t know– perhaps they came over on barges ?
    So what’s the problem with local solar and wind power ?

  7. Subsea cable failure should be expected. U.S. 1st offshore DeepWater Wind cables have failed since 2016 commissioning. Orsted has 11 offshore wind projects with cable failure. The UK has 50 offshore wind projects with cable failure.
    Mostly importantly, ratepayers are on the hook to fund transmission, and fund the failure of it.
    DeepWater Wind repairs have been put off until the fall. Ratepayers are on the hook for upwards of $30 mil, for repairs only.

    Vineyard Wind has a cable design & install agreement with Prysmian that built the Western Link.
    Western Link failure leaves energy users facing £36m bill’
    “Consumers in England and Wales may have to pay millions of pounds in compensation to Scottish wind farms after a £1.1 billion underwater cable failed for a second time…”

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/energy-users-face-36m-bill-for-failed-cable-6f7v0mfz6

  8. How old are the cables? “three of the four cables are “near or beyond their design life.”

    What is the cost to replace?

  9. Barbara– above ground cable failures can also be expected, and the ratepayers are “on the hook ” for those repairs .
    I don’t see many alternatives to undersea cables for getting electricity to the island except local solar or local land based wind.

Comments are closed.