Aging system sparks outages

An MEC distribution crew installs new underground power cables at the soon-to-open new Stevedore NAPA building in Uliga. Photo: Giff Johnson.


Although the Marshalls Energy Company’s engines are old, the biggest challenge it faces to providing stable delivery of power to Majuro is its distribution system, according to General Manager Jack Chong Gum.

Aging cables and transformers are the cause of many of the power outages that have affected the capital atoll over the past year or more.

“Now, most problems with outages are from our distribution system,” said Chong Gum. And within that bigger picture, Uliga in the downtown area is the “most problem area” for MEC’s distribution system, he said.

“Frequent outages are the result of old lines and small cables that cannot handle the demand of power,” said Chong Gum. “It overloads the system.”
MEC distribution teams started recently installing new — and large size — underground cable and the project will be continuing for sometime. The aim is essentially to rewire the Uliga-to-Jenrok area.

“Uliga used to be just a few buildings,” Chong Gum said. “Now, we have the new NAPA and PNA buildings (in addition to many others).”
He pointed out that over the years MEC connected new businesses and houses, and the “line zigzags all over,” adding to the challenge for the distribution crews installing new cable.

The aim of the new project is to separate Uliga from the Jenrok to Ejit area such that if a power fault hits Uliga, it can be isolated and power kept on for the Jenrok-to-Ejit area, he said.

It’s costing MEC a big chunk of change to fund the improvements for distribution. Chong Gum estimates the utility company spent $3.5 million on cables, transformers and poles in 2019 and 2020. “We’ve spent a lot, but we’re only half way there,” he said. “We’ve already replaced 125 transformers. We have 150 more to go.”

As with other MEC projects, Covid-19 has slowed the process. MEC is finding that longer lead times for purchasing and shipping poles, transformers and cables have led to delays receiving needed supplies and equipment.


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