New Brunswick

New undersea cable to bring power to the Fundy Isles

The Maersk Connector ship is specifically designed to feed cable into the ocean. It will soon lay cables to the Fundy Isles.

'The importance is to get clean, reliable energy out to the islands,' says project manager

The Maersk Connector is carrying the new cable that will feed electricity from the mainland to the Fundy Isles. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

The mayor of Grand Manan says clocks haven't been telling the right time since July. 

That's when the undersea power cable between Deer Island and Campobello Island failed, disconnecting both Campobello Island and Grand Manan from mainland power. 

"Being on what we call the Jet, a lot of people's clocks gained five minutes a day," Mayor Dennis Greene said. "And now that we are on the other generators, I know my clocks at home are losing five minutes a day."

The "Jet" is what Grand Mananers affectionately dubbed their backup generator.

But soon after the cable failed, NB Power installed three diesel generators on Campobello and seven on Grand Manan to  sustain the islands until the new cables are installed. 

The lifespan of the cables is 40 years and NB Power had always planned to lay new ones this year, but the fact that the so-called "short cable" failed sped up the timeline a little bit.

The utility's $45-million project is reaching its end point — the cable is expected to start being laid sometime this week.  

Wendi Wright is the NB Power project manager on the Fundy Isles cable project. She said the cable is expected to begin being laid this week. (Sarah Kester/CBC)

"The project has been on the books for even more years than I've been on it but it was accelerated because of the 40-year lifespan," said Wendi Wright, the project manager for NB Power.

"The importance is to get clean, reliable energy out to the islands."

There are two undersea cables that feed power from the mainland to the Fundy Isles.

The first one runs from Deer Island to Campobello and is 3½​​​​ kilometres long. The second one runs from Campobello Island to Grand Manan and is 14 kilometres long. 

Special cable laying ship

The new cables are wider than the old ones and operate at a higher rate of power. Not only will this put them on par with the mainland, it means that should the Fundy Isles want to create renewable energy in the future they will have the capacity.

Wright said what people are most excited about is the fibre-optic cable that runs alongside the three core power cables, which will provide improved internet capacity.

The cable sits coiled in the carousel on the Maersk Connector. It took four days to load in Germany and will take up to two weeks to be laid in the Bay of Fundy. (Sarah Kester/CBC)

The whole thing is packaged within two layers of wire armour designed to keep it safe from natural hazards as well as the heavy fishing industry in the area. 

"We wanted to make this cable more robust to last another 40 years," Wright said. 

The cable arrived in Saint John on Thursday aboard the Maersk-Connector Deep Ocean vessel. The ship is specifically designed to feed cables into the ocean.

It took four days for the cables to be coiled. The short cable that will run from Deer Island to Campobello is on top of a carousel and the longer one to Grand Manan on the bottom. 

To unravel them into the ocean, Wright said, should take 10-14 days. The tricky part is connecting the cables to the shore, which is complicated by the high Fundy tides and strong currents. 

The cable will be fed through a series of conveyors to the back of the boat before being put into the ocean. (Sarah Kester/CBC)

"Because we have the highest tides in the world and we have really high currents the vessel itself has to be positioned properly," she said.

There are four connection points on land— areas where the cables essentially plug in — one on Deer Island, two on Campobello and one on Grand Manan. The rest of the process is pretty straight forward, with the ship able to lay 300 metres of cable an hour. 

Extensive consultation 

The new cable will be laid pretty close to where the old one lies. Wright said they went through an extensive consultation process with the local fishing industries and First Nations as well as conducted multiple scientific studies. 

They "ended up moving the cable closer to the original cable just so we would have less impact on the fishing associations," Wright said.

For now, the original cable will stay in the water. Removing it will take another set of studies and consultations.

While the short cable no longer works, the long cable from Campobello to Grand Manan can be used in reserve.

It also means Grand Manan will once again be hooked up to mainland power after the new short cable is laid. 

Greene said people on Grand Manan are looking forward to that. Other than the clock issue, the generators are noisy and some people can hear them from their houses.

About the Author

Sarah Kester

Reporter

Sarah Kester is a reporter at CBC in Saint John, New Brunswick. She can be reached at sarah.kester@cbc.ca.

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