Power outage: No island is an appendix, entire of itself…

October 13, 2008 at 5:17 pm | In power_grid, vancouver_island | 4 Comments

Yesterday afternoon’s power outage on southern Vancouver Island reminded me of an entry of mine from June 2005: Wanted: small solutions.

Some of the links to a blog that Sea Breeze Power Corporation had at the time have rotted away, but I still have a relevant quote up (and therefore preserved!):

On another business front, also with positive implications for Vancouver Island, Sea Breeze Pacific Juan de Fuca Cable, LP (“Sea Breeze Pacific” – a 49.75 % owned subsidiary of Sea Breeze Power Corp.), is moving into the Vancouver Island public consultation phase for its Juan de Fuca Transmission Cable.

The cable, a submarine 40 kilometre, 540-megawatt “High Voltage Direct Current” (“HVDC Light™”) line between Victoria, British Columbia and Port Angeles, Washington State, is designed to deliver power from “south to north” as well as “north to south”, providing critical reliability for Vancouver Island and strengthening the grids on both sides of the border.

Technical studies for the Juan de Fuca Cable, being conducted by utilities on both sides of the border, are expected to be completed Fall, 2005. The line is scheduled to be operational by Fall, 2007. [More…]

Alas, it’s the “more” link at the end of the quote that has rotted away.

Wow, my entry was from June 2005 — and at the time, Sea Breeze projected a Fall 2007 completion date.  Instead, their latest update is from Oct.3/08, reporting that

Sea Breeze Power Corp. is pleased to announce that the United States Army Corps of Engineers has issued a Permit authorizing the installation of the Juan de Fuca Cable Project (“JdF Cable”) on United States soil and seabed. The Permit represents the conclusion of US Federal and State Permitting requirements for the JdF Cable and is a milestone achievement in the development of the 50 kilometer, 550 MW High Voltage Direct Current Light® (“HVDC Light”) international submarine transmission cable.

I’m glad the project is still underway, but how sad is it that red tape and who knows what else have tied things up to the point that we’re still waiting?  Right now, Vancouver Island is like an appendix.  There’s one line going in, nothing going out, no circle, no loop.  That has to change.

No man is an island, and no island should be a mere appendix.

(I think I may have found my defining slogan… )


  1. I’ve never seen that earlier part of the Donne meditation. But I always think of that closing formation whenever a new war starts…”any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

    That’s just an aside. My comment is really about centralized power generation. Not helpful when things break down. Huh?

    Where I live, when we lose power people fire up their…what?…generators. People who have gas powered electricity generators have power, those who don’t have none.

    This idea of on-site, distributed power generation, carried forward from crisis mode into the general run of things, would indicate a world in which far more micro-scale generation would take place. If your building/home had an independent power generation and storage system, this discontinuity would have been far less disruptive.

    And if it were government/civic policy to encourage/enable distributed power generation at scale, this discontinuity may hardly have been noticed.

    Current technology offer a wide variety of options to generate and store power on a household scale. Is it a complete solution to urban power requirements? No. Can it make an important contribution? Yes. Can it keep a power delivery disruption from becoming a total city shut down? Absolutely. And this doesn’t include technologies that are in the pipeline.

    Lucky for you, you’re north of the border. Your government seems far more likely to support and enable such an approach than does mine. That said, sad to see that you’re dependent on the US.

    To paraphrase badly: Your island is better off as an island, entire unto itself. Or at least enough so that you can make toast when the power goes down.

    Comment by Frymaster — October 13, 2008 #

  2. Thanks for commenting, John. Now, as for that generator: it still requires gas — which has to be shipped here, haha, and the Ferry Corp. is a centralized service…
    In other (positive) news: BC apparently does allow for generating one’s own power, and selling any excess back to the power company. So that’s good — except it’s not a widespread practice, by any means.
    Now, as for whether or not the island is better off as an island, I have to differ (or at least differentiate). Yes, obviously I agree that total dependency on central authority isn’t a good idea, but I’m looking at this as though it’s a web-issue, and I want redundancy built into the model. I look at my island as something that’s part of a larger whole, a grid, a web, a feedback organism. The business of keeping this island as island-as-appendix (all flow going in, backlog going out, no loops for going ’round) is not going to bode well for its future, imo.
    Autonomy and self-sufficiency are great in the abstract, but in real life it’s limiting and even sad to be totally autonomous. That’s what John Donne was talking about, too, right? 🙂 If we keep going like we’re going, we won’t be able to make toast, which could limit our options of how we break bread with our fellows.

    Comment by Yule — October 13, 2008 #

  3. Agreed. All of the above, if I can say that without sound McInsane!

    Everybody should have some kind of back-up to deliver a minimal amount of 12v for, say, 48 hours. Power the cell phone/laptop, gas/oil boiler. Mine is electronically controlled so even if I have gas pressure, I get no heat.

    We’re just too smart and too technologically savvy to have “black outs.”

    Comment by Frymaster — October 14, 2008 #

  4. Not to sound self-important, but we are the capital of British Columbia and are only physically an island. We have responsibilities carried out by many in this city that are critical to the operation of the rest of the province. I think Yule’s support of this plan is bang-on for that reason by itself.

    Besides being the capital – it just makes sense to do it – if we can, why on earth would we not opt for more stable electricity flows? Sounds like smart (complete) infrastructure.

    On a selfish tip, losing power meant I was interrupted in the middle of writing a lengthy report on corporate communications and I lost valuable writing time. Bah!

    Comment by davin — October 14, 2008 #

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