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LCEC responds to panel’s power outage concerns

By Staff | Jul 14, 2010

In response to a letter the Captiva Community Panel wrote a few months ago to Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC), which addressed frequent blackouts and fluctuations in power on Captiva, LCEC chief executive officer Dennie Hamilton attended the panel’s Tuesday meeting to answer questions from the panel.

Two major events in November of 2009 caused Captiva to lose power, leaving some residents and business without electricity for longer than 24 hours.

One of those major outage events, which occurred on Nov. 1, 2009, was caused by a sailboat knocking out a transmission line on the Matlacha Bridge. The same thing happened again on March 8, 2010.

“When the sailboat hit the Matlacha Bridge it knocked power out on Sanibel, Pine Island and Captiva for hours. To add insult to injury, the exact same thing happened months later. If there is a problem the first time, you identify the problem and then you solve it and make sure it never happens again. It’s something that’s so vulnerable to being hit by a boat and it impacts many people to the tune of thousands of dollars,” Panel President Sandy Silverglide said, noting that during one of the outages caused by a boat hitting a transmission line on the Matlacha Bridge in November of 2009, her businesses suffered a $49,000 loss.

“We’re not here to beat you up. We just want solutions. How can we expect things to get better here?” Silverglide asked Hamilton.

“We didn’t meet our objectives last year. The service we delivered to the folks on the islands was not acceptable. It did not meet our standards. We’re trying to do something about that,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton gave a short presentation about LCEC, how they measure service reliability and what they’re doing to reduce power outages on the islands.

Out of 196,000 of LCEC’s clients, 1,895 are located on Captiva and there is only one transmission line on the island.

“I’m not trying to make any excuses for the service. This is a fact of life. We’ve got an obligation to provide service here and our job is to figure out how, despite these conditions, what it is we have to do to provide better service,” Hamilton said. “We recognize that there is a problem and we’ve got to do something about it.”

Hamilton said that LCEC has increased line coverage to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in addition to accelerating tree-trimming around service lines and installing cameras on the transmission lines.

“Part of the challenge when the boat hits the transmission line, is that we have to wait until someone can visually see that the sailboat is clear of the line. In our control room, people can see whether the line is clear or not and if the line is clear they can restore service. There will still be an outage, but it will be a momentary outage as opposed to a lengthy outage as we’ve seen in the past,” Hamilton said.

Raising the Matlacha line would cost around $300,000, but Hamilton said that wouldn’t preclude boats from drifting and accidentally snagging the line. An old but familiar issue — underground transmission lines — resurfaced throughout the course of the discussion when an audience member asked if it would be better for Captivans to pay for their service lines to be buried. Hamilton said not necessarily.

“There are trade offs. If the line is overhead and it goes out of service, we can see what’s going on and pinpoint the source of the problem more quickly. But if it’s underground, it’s not exposed to all the elements,” he said.

Silverglide expressed her gratitude to Hamilton to for coming to the meeting and said she was glad that LCEC had plans in place for the future.

For more information about power service on the islands, visit www.lcec.net.