May 15, 2015
Work progressing well on VINLEC’s hydroelectric systems

by Adrian Codogan

Seventeen months after the Christmas Eve trough system that took 12 lives and cost hundreds of millions in damage, including to the country’s hydroelectric systems, the St Vincent Electricity Services Ltd (VINLEC) has made significant {{more}}progress in refurbishing and upgrading their plants.

The 2013 storm did extensive damage to the hydro plants at South Rivers, Cumberland and Richmond, flooding the stations and mangling and derailing the wooden pipes that conducted the water to the turbines.

The Cumberland hydro system, which consists of three generating plants was returned to service in June 2014, while the South Rivers and Richmond plants are still out of commission, as work continues on them.

During a media tour of the Richmond hydroelectric plant last Friday, company engineers said they are proud of their accomplishments thus far.

At South Rivers and Richmond, the wooden pipes that conduct the water to the turbines are being replaced by pipes made from Reinforced Plastic Glass (RPG), a more durable high tech material that is manufactured in Columbia.

Georgios Vavaroutsos, a consultant from the company that makes the RPG, told SEARCHLIGHT that his company has been around for 20 years and has offices in Mexico, Panama and Argentina.

At Dark View, where the wooden pipes leading to the reservoir for the Richmond station are being replaced, SEARCHLIGHT observed over 50 workers busy digging the long trench, while others were fitting and laying the new RPG pipes, which have a lifespan of 50 years.

Head of VINLEC’s engineering department Dr Vaughn Lewis told SEARCHLIGHT that there will be many benefits to using the new technology and running the pipes underground.

“RPG is much cheaper than wood, so we are saving trees and the cost of maintaining the pipeline will be non-existent, as opposed to wood,” Lewis said.

Other benefits include improving the appearance of the landscape which is close to the Dark View Falls recreation site.

Communications officer Tamara Job-Sprott said other benefits include increased employment in the area and an injection of funds into the local economy. She noted that VINLEC is very community oriented and sponsors many events in the North leeward area.

The works are being carried out by local contractor Rudy’s Electrical and so far approximately 100 metres of underground pipes have been laid, with another 750 metres to go, to connect to the iron pipe that takes the water up into the generating plant located at the northern edge of Fitz-hughes.

According to Lewis, the biggest challenge in laying the pipes underground is the presence of large boulders.

“Those that could be taken out are taken out, but those that we can’t take out or break up, instead of using dynamite, we use a new technology where we drill holes into the rocks and place an agent that expands overnight into the holes and the boulder would crack and fragment,” the engineering manager said.

The Richmond hydroelectricity plant had been out of commission for repairs since November 2013, one month before the trough system destroyed its pipeline.

The plant has since been refurbished with new turbines and other systems, while the outer casing of the generators and turbines have been painted in cool art décor colours. The building has also been given a facelift, awaiting connection to its brand new RPG underground pipes.

The plant operates two turbines and can generate 1.1 mega watts of electricity even during the dry season, making it the most efficient hydroelectric system in the nation.

While the Richmond hydro plant is out of service, it costs the electricity provider approximately $3.1 million annually to purchase fuel.

Of the four hydroelectric installations in SVG, the South Rivers plant is the oldest, followed by the Richmond, then Cumberland, which was completed in 1987. Hydro electricity accounts for over 20 per cent of electrical energy generated in SVG, with 80 per cent being produced in North Leeward at Cumberland and Richmond.

VINLEC is aiming to have all of its hydro plants fully operational by mid-June. The total cost of the replacement of the pipe lines and the refurbishment of the hydroelectric plants at Richmond and South Rivers is approximately EC$15 million.

Senior engineer Ricky Wright was also part of VINLEC’s team that conducted the media tour.