New Kachemak Bay cable quadruples energy possibilities

PHOTO/R.J. Kelly/Homer News
HOMER -- About 700 residents of Seldovia, Halibut Cove, Port Graham and Nanwalek have a fresh link with Homer Electric Association now that the utility has laid a new cable under Kachemak Bay.

Spooled out from a barge for 3.5 miles, the 102-ton cable was plowed five feet into the seabed using pressurized water from a hydro-plow. The actual crossing from McKeon Flats took about 10 hours, ending at the Homer Spit Nov. 8.

The $2.5 million project replaces a cable laid in 1975 that is now reaching the end of its useful life, HEA officials said.

With a fierce wind whipping across the Spit and temperatures dipping into the teens, HEA general manager Norm Story, project engineer Don Stead and Seldovia City Manager Ken Weaver gathered at 10 a.m. Thursday to celebrate as the cable neared shore. But difficulty getting past an offshore ledge delayed hauling the cable the last 100 yards or so onto the beach until about 4 p.m.

To Sam Matthews, the historic undertaking revived memories of when the now-retired HEA engineer coordinated laying the first cable 26 years ago.

As he snapped pictures with a tiny, disposable camera, the 66-year-old Homer and Yuma, Ariz., resident said that first crossing took only about four hours to lay the cable. But that time it was simply dropped on the sea floor, not buried for greater protection, as the new hydro-plow technique accomplished.

It was also a lot cheaper. At about $20 a foot in 1975, plus other expenses to make the connections and bury the ends, Matthews said the original project cost about $425,000.

"This is a lot more advanced equipment," Matthews said. Even though the 1975 crossing took less than half the time, "I spent another week with hard-hat divers to bury the cable" at each end, Matthews said.

The maximum depth of the bay is about 360 feet, he said.

In recognition of his 32 years of service to HEA and his interest in the project, Matthews went across the bay with the crew to watch the new operation.

In addition to increasing the power capacity by a factor of four, the new cable package carries 12 fiber-optic lines to allow for anticipated needs for future broadband telecommunications and Internet-related uses.

The fiber-optic lines added only about $77,000 to the total cost, Stead said, much less than laying a separate cable later.

The new cable has a capacity of more than 12 megawatts of electric power, compared with about 3 megawatts for the old line.

"This cable could supply a city the size of Homer," Stead said.

After being spliced into connecting boxes on the Spit and energized, the cable will be tested. The old cable will then be disconnected and simply left underwater. No power interruptions are anticipated, Stead said, and the new cable is expected to last 25 to 30 years.

Running off a turntable capable of handling 300 tons of cable, the Seattle firm of Pirelli Jacobson installed the 102 tons of cable from a specially outfitted barge.

A $2 million federal appropriation to pay for most of the project was included by Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in the fiscal 2002 Energy and Water Appropriation Bill. The bill has passed through U.S. House and Senate committees and is expected to be approved by the full Congress and President Bush, HEA officials said.

An additional $1.5 million in state funds is also being sought to offset remaining costs. As part of the project, HEA plans to replace the 1940s-era electricity generating station at Seldovia. Replacing that 2.1-megawatt diesel-power station with a 2.5-megawatt plant would account for about $1 million of the additional funds, Stead estimated.

It would take about four months to replace the generators, he said.

11/25/2001 - 8:00pm