This pole snapped early Monday morning as Igor blew through, taking the overhead cables with it. *Photo by Tony McWilliam
This pole snapped early Monday morning as Igor blew through, taking the overhead cables with it. *Photo by Tony McWilliam
It would cost $300 million to transfer the country’s electricity supply underground.

But even if the public were willing to fund this through higher bills, it would still not guarantee a storm-proof supply.

Renewable, underground and overground supplies are all vulnerable to the force of nature, say experts.

As the weekend proved, even hurricane winds at the lowest end of the Saffir-Simpson scale are enough to plunge homes into darkness for days.


Category one Hurricane Igor blacked out 80 per cent of homes and businesses on the island.

As of last night – four days on — 600 BELCO customers still had no power.

But even if islanders adopted renewable energy systems, such as solar and photovoltaic panels or micro-wind turbines, there would still be problems.

Andrew Vaucrosson, president of sustainable development group Greenrock, said: “Even micro-renewables during a storm would not be operable and would have to be secured or taken down in preparation of a category two, three or four. However, soon after a storm passes the weather conditions are usually suitable for micro-renewables to generate power.”

Mr. Vaucrosson said there is a case for Government or the Energy Commission to mandate that all new commercial and residential buildings install micro-renewable systems.

He added: “In the event of power disruption, these could possibly generate emergency power.”

Another alternative to downed overhead power lines is to go underground.

But BELCO said there are challenges, mainly financial, to this.

All of the company’s transmission cables, which carry power from its central generators to 33 substations, are underground. About 55 per cent of customers receive power through underground distribution cables and 45 per cent from overhead lines.

BELCO said its system is “robust” against lower hurricane force winds. But the longevity of Igor resulted in it being “continually battered by wet overhanging trees and flying debris”, causing damage.

Andrew Parsons, BELCO president, said: “An underground cable can also fault in a storm situation, particularly when the system is struck by lightning or the cable is affected by other stresses on the system.

“There were underground cable faults during Igor and these take considerably more time to resolve as they are more difficult to locate.

“Once located, they require trenching, jointing and reinstatement of the surface.”

Most distribution lines in Hamilton and St. George’s are now underground.

The island’s hotels are also fed power this way.


Mr. Parsons said: “Southside has an underground system and we foresee North Hamilton and Dockyard having an underground system.”

The extent of BELCO’s underground system compares “very favourably” with Caribbean islands.

Mr. Parsons said: “Most islands, as well as much of North America and Europe, have their distribution systems overhead.”

It would cost $300 million for BELCO to move all its cables underground.

Mr. Parsons said: “It is expensive because the construction (trenching and vaults) and materials (cable, transformers and vaults) to replace the overhead system is expensive.

“There are also costs associated with the extensive traffic disruptions caused by trenching public roads, as well as the inconvenience to the motoring public, which would extend over several years.

“The cost of electricity is already high and management’s view is that we need to prioritize. We are not convinced this order of investment is supportable locally by the existing customer base of 35,000.”

New power generation, transmission and distribution facilities are expected to cost $350 million by 2020.

Renewable energy projects will cost another $200 million and smart networks between $80-100 million.

Another challenge is the way Bermuda has developed physically.

Mr. Parsons said: “Neighbourhoods have not been developed in the North American and European ‘block’ design.

“Attempting to build an underground system will be both challenging and expensive, from a legal (easement/rights of way) perspective and from a construction and materials perspective.

“A transfer is conceivable if we can address the legal, financial and technical issues.”

Neither Energy Minister Michael Scott nor Environment Minister Glenn Blakeney were available for comment yesterday.
“It is what it is,” said Cameron Hollis yesterday, when asked what it feels like to be without power for three days.

The 26-year-old Bermudian took a philosophical approach to the vagaries of the electricity supply.

He and his two housemates lost power at 6pm on Sunday and it did not return until after 4pm on Wednesday.

Mr. Hollis said: “Not having a hot shower and not being able to sleep on Monday due to it being so muggy, that was the worst. I had to wash in a 44-gallon drum of water instead, so it was great to finally get a hot shower.

“But there’s been no frustration about the power outage. It is what it is — it’s just one of those things we have to deal with.”

Mr. Hollis, a junior underwriter who lives off Knapton Hill, Smith’s, said he would “eventually” like to see BELCO move their cables underground.

But he added: “It would be pretty cost-prohibitive and if anything went wrong it would mean tearing the roads up.

“It would then take a few days to get power back online.”