December 15, 2015

CHEC will proceed with seven days on generator power


The Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative today issued an outage notice that Hatteras and Ocracoke islands will be powered by generators from Wednesday, Dec. 16, at 6 a.m. until Tuesday, Dec. 22.

The outage is part of CHEC's project to move its transmission lines on northern Hatteras Island to prepare for the construction of the replacement of the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet.

The notice says that there will be a 30-minute outage on Wednesday, Dec. 16,  at 6 a.m. in the villages of Buxton, Avon, Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo when the switch to generators is made.

The outage notice asks members to conserve electricity, beginning Friday evening, Dec. 18.

Running the islands on generator power is extremely weather-dependent. The biggest users of power on the island are heating and air-conditioning units and such things as water heaters. Therefore, CHEC managers are really not concerned so much with how many Christmas lights you have -- but how much heat you use.

Temperatures have been perfect for the project for the past several weeks on Hatteras and Ocracoke -- warm, so that most folks don't need a lot of heat, but not so warm that they need to use air conditioning.  

In fact, two record high temperatures were set on Hatteras on Saturday, Dec. 12, and Monday, Dec. 14.

  • The high on Saturday was 73, breaking the old record of 72, set in 1961.
  • The high on Monday was 75, breaking the old record of 74, set in 1991.

However, a strong cold front now in the western U.S. is poised to sweep through the area late Thursday into early Friday. A warm front will bring rain, perhaps heavy at times, and wind on Thursday ahead of the front passage.

Cold air will rush into the area on Friday night into Saturday, lowering temperatures below the average for mid-December. After a high of around 65 on Friday, temperatures on Hatteras and Ocracoke are forecast to fall into the low 40s Friday night and rise only to about 49 on Saturday.

Saturday night will bring the coldest temperatures forecast for the seven days on generators with a low expected to fall to around 38 on the islands and then rise to about 55 on Sunday.  Sunday night's low will be only 47 and highs early next week are forecast to rebound back to the 60s.

So, CHEC's concern is focused on the Friday night through Sunday period.

Susan Flythe, executive vice-president and general manager of the cooperative, said that CHEC managers have gone back to look at historical data for power usage when the temperatures are close to what is forecast for the weekend.

"It's very close," she said.

With the generators in Buxton and on Ocracoke, along with three that have been brought in for the project, CHEC will have 24 megawatts of power available.  Ideally, CHEC managers want to keep power usage at about 20 or so megawatts with a needed cushion of about 3 megawatts.

Looking at the historical data, Flythe said, the power usage has been at about 24 megawatts.

Therefore, CHEC has asked that members begin conserving power -- a step that it had hoped wouldn't be needed -- on Friday night.

The cooperative also this morning began asking property management companies to switch off the breakers at unoccupied rental cottages -- also a step that CHEC had hoped would not be needed.

In addition, if the load begins getting close to the maximum the generators can handle over the weekend, CHEC will use rolling outages, in which villages will be taken off the generators for a certain time period.

Flythe explains that CHEC managers do not want the generators to just crash because it is much more difficult to restart them when they are all down -- that's what is called a "cold start."  So, it is better to keep the generators running and take certain designated areas down in the rolling fashion.

CHEC will also use conservation voltage reduction in which the co-op reduces power just slightly to conserve.  It has already been used during peak summer months, Flythe said.  Customers, she added, will not notice the difference.

The utility construction project area is just south of the Bonner Bridge. The power lines travel across the bridge and then underground to a riser, a structure where underground lines transition to overhead lines. The current riser must be moved out of the way to make room for the new construction.  And a new temporary riser must be built until the bridge is finished and a new permanent riser constructed.

The current -- or "old" -- riser is on the west side of Highway 12, just south of the bridge, and the new temporary structure is about 350 feet to the south. To make the transition from the current riser to the new one, the lines must be cut and spliced back together, a job that the contractor, New River Construction, and CHEC expect to take about seven days.

It is possible, Flythe said, that the contractor on the project could finish earlier than Dec. 22, but that is also weather-dependent.  The contractor, she said, has tents with sides to use in wet weather, but working during the weather forecast for the end of the week will depend on such things as how hard the wind blows and how heavy the rain is. The work must be done in a dry area, and the contractor has dewatering pumps that can help to a degree, Flythe said.

Flythe says it will help that the coldest weather is forecast for over the weekend when schools and many offices are closed.  She said there should not be a power spike in the morning when islanders are getting up and getting ready for the day.

Some folks in comments on The Island Free Press website have questioned the timing of the project to move the lines -- in December and right before Christmas.  Flythe said CHEC would much rather have done the job in a month such as October.

However, a lawsuit that held up the bridge replacement for several years was not settled until last summer.  CHEC began planning then to move the lines but had to coordinate with the schedules of contractors and subcontractors and the delivery of material, some of which had to come from Europe.

If the project is not completed now, Flythe said, the next window CHEC will have is probably April.

January, February, and early March are too cold to get the job done on generator power.  And Easter is early next year -- March 27.  The island is too crowded with visitors to run everything on generators, so CHEC would have to wait for the lull in visitation in April -- between the Easter and Memorial Day holidays.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation wants CHEC to get the lines moved so the bridge contractor can start construction in March. And islanders, who have waited much too long for the replacement, are eager to see it underway.


Hatteras and Ocracoke islanders can follow the progress of the project and monitor the power usage in real time by following CHEC on Facebook and Twitter.  There will also be regular updates on Radio Hatteras -- 101.5 FM -- and on The Island Free Press website.

CHEC will post real-time updates as needed, including information on power usage.


Here are the tips that CHEC is offering for conserving power during the seven days that the island will be on generators -- especially for the weekend, beginning Friday evening.

  • Lower the thermostat: If you have your heat on, consider lowering the temperature by as much as 10 degrees. CHEC recommends a setting of 68 or lower.
  • Consider cold water settings when washing your laundry.
  • Turn off the pre-rinse and heat-dry settings on your dishwasher.
  • Take advantage of blinds and curtains: Open them during the day, especially on windows that face south. Let the sunshine in and warm your home. Close them at night to help insulate.
  • Keep ceiling fans off. Although you may think that you are blowing down warm air, people also feel a chill from the flow of air.
  • Conserving power can be as simple as unplugging chargers for phones and tablets, which draw energy when they aren’t in use.
  • Please do not use electric space heaters.


The Editor's Blog:  It will take a community to support seven days on generators

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