Did you experience a power blip this week? The City Electric Department says a damaged high-voltage connection point was likely the cause.

Bryan Bertacchi is the electric utility director. He says crews found the fault on Japonski Island near the dock of the US Coast Guard Cutter Maple. They repaired it around 3:30 this morning (Wednesday morning), after working through the night.

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While the fault caused short power blips, some residents experienced longer outages earlier this week when city crews were shutting down systems to figure out the problem.

“On the island, as every knows, we have a significant amount of underground cable and troubleshooting those faults is more complicated, more costly and more time consuming and as the infrastructure ages, including all these underground lines, more of these types of faults can be expected,” he said.

That faulty line – and Sitka’s aging electrical infrastructure – is a cause of concern for Bertacchi. He has proposed the city build a new substation to address increased electrical demands and take pressure off the Marine Street transformer, which powers 80 percent of the town.

“Marine street substation itself was designed and built over 35 years ago and as you know the community has changed and power needs changed in the community and our potential growth is likely north on HPR and so I think we’ve to accommodate all those changes and look at how we can upgrade and maintain all the equipment we have,” he said.


The Marine Street substation is 35 years old. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

The backup transformer for Marine Street is getting repaired and is expected to return to Baranof Island this spring. Bertacchi says he is trying to figure out the exact cost of an added transformer before bringing a concrete proposal to the assembly – but it could have a multi-million dollar price tag.

Bertacchi says the city initially thought the outages were being caused by a faulty submarine cable, which would have been costly to fix. The actual repair will amount to roughly $200. He’s also looking into some other equipment to ease future problemsdue to the older electrical system.

“We may recommend some additional high-voltage switches be installed in strategic locations at a later date to make troubleshooting more effective,” he said. “These would be fairly low cost and would allow us to isolate portions of the system faster to test and identify the locations of future faults.”

As the Electric Department awaits confirmation on the faulty cable, they’ve reconfigured the city’s electrical system to service downtown and Japonski Island through transformers on Jarvis Street. That area is usually serviced by the Marine Street substation. Bertacchi says he’ll wait a couple days before returning the system back to normal.