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Andersen electricians work to keep the lights on

  • Published
  • By By Tech. Sgt. Zachary Wilson
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Workers and residents of Andersen are no strangers to that familiar sensation when power goes out and the eerie calm before generators kick in. Sometimes the power comes right back on, sometimes not.

The 36th Civil Engineer Squadron works around the clock to maintain the base power system but is currently fighting a battle against age of the equipment and unique environmental conditions that come with living on a tropical island.

Fortunately, help is on the way. The base is currently undergoing an infrastructure replacement program for the system that begins in the near future. The completed $4 million project will see increased efficiency and reliability to workplaces and homes on Andersen and will feature far fewer power outages.

"The end goal of the project is to eliminate, to the fullest reasonable extent possible, the occurrence of unscheduled power outages," said 1st Lt. Zachary Schumann, 36th CES Operations Engineering officer in charge. "We say that fully knowing that these occurrences will still happen and are impossible to eliminate completely. However, the new, projected infrastructure is much more resistant to flash-overs and short circuit situations which we experience frequently now. The new infrastructure will revitalize Andersen's power grid and give our residents power reliability similar to that which they would experience at a stateside base."

Contrary to some base legends, the power outages are not caused by brown tree snakes getting tangled in power lines, short-circuiting the base electrical grid. The majority of the outages occur due to switch gears, which are a combination of electrical disconnect switches, fuses or circuit breakers that control, protect and isolate electrical equipment, according to base engineer officials.

"When the humidity rises, especially after a storm, electricity finds a path of substantially less resistance between the phases of the conductors in the air-terminal switch gear," Schumann said.  "The electricity 'flashes' over, across the phases and creates a short-circuit situation. Imagine a wall outlet inside a sauna, only on a much larger scale. As the humidity increases, the resistance to the free flow of electricity decreases. As you increase the humidity in the sauna, you would eventually hit a short-circuit situation and the circuit breaker would trip. That is exactly the same issue we face with our switch gear terminals located across the base."

When the power does go out, contractors from DZSP 21 go to the site and respond, usually resolving problems in two hours, he said.

"They work fast; they have been working on this for years but they are always playing catch-up because of the old infrastructure," Schumann said. "The work they do is incredibly important and we are very fortunate to have their irreplaceable trade skills here on base."

Base officials are aware of the problems with the power outages and assure the base population that the issue will be resolved soon.

"We received specific funding to address requirements like this after the strategic pivot to the Pacific," said Lt. Col. Elton Sledge, 36th CES commander. "That funding allowed us to focus on improving the power grid to provide sovereign options to national decision makers as well as significantly improving the quality of life for base members and their families."

However, until that work is complete, Sledge hopes members and residents can be patient and understand the squadron and DZSP team are working as hard as they can to address outages professionally and in a timely manner.

"We understand these outages can be inconvenient," he said. "We just hope all the members of the base community can understand we are working our hardest for them."

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