18th CES surges to upgrade base's power system

Base Info
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Christian Rosa, (left), and Staff Sgt. Nicholas Scheerer, (right), 18th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical systems technicians, work on an overhead power line on Kadena Air Base, Japan, Sept. 14, 2014. The 18th CES has been working on converting all of the overhead lines to underground lines. (Courtesy photo by 18th CES)
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Christian Rosa, (left), and Staff Sgt. Nicholas Scheerer, (right), 18th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical systems technicians, work on an overhead power line on Kadena Air Base, Japan, Sept. 14, 2014. The 18th CES has been working on converting all of the overhead lines to underground lines. (Courtesy photo by 18th CES)

18th CES surges to upgrade base's power system

by: Senior Airman Marcus Morris, 18 Wing Public Affairs | .
Kadena Air Base | .
published: October 04, 2014

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- There have been several power outages here on Kadena Air Base within the last few months and the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron is working diligently to improve the system to fix the problem.

The primary electrical distribution system is important to the mission here and for decades the system has reliably supplied the installation with power; however, age along with various repairs and the corrosive Okinawan environment has taken their toll on the system and now parts of it have reached the end of their service life.

"We had a very old and aging infrastructure that needed fixing," said Master Sgt. Troy Abbott , 18th CES NCO in charge of interior electric systems. "Now that we have the funding, if all goes right we should have all of the overhead lines underground by the summer of next year."

While most of the system is underground, a few areas of Kadena Air Base still has overhead lines which are exposed to the harsh environment and pose a higher risk for failures, especially around typhoons. These are the overhead lines that support the Sebille Manor, North Terrace, and Terrace Heights housing areas and are the areas that have recently seen a high number of unscheduled outages.

"We have guys who live in the areas that go down all the time," said Abbott. "For them, it means even more incentive to get the power back on as quickly as they can."

To mitigate these problems, the 718th Civil Engineer Squadron is working toward and overseeing projects to place electrical lines underground.  As work progresses, it means that occupants of these housing areas must endure scheduled electrical outages to ensure the safety of the workers.

The 718th CES has been notifying affected residents of scheduled outages at least two weeks in advance and they are working with contractors to decrease the number of outages to support these critical upgrades as well as to reduce the scope of required outages.  During this time the electricians will have to redirect power flow from one avenue to another in order to maintain power to facilities when the contractors take down an overhead line and place it underground.

The increased frequency of redirecting power, along with the fact the system has reached the end of its service life, increases the likelihood of failures.

Some may still wonder why it takes such a long time to get power back or wonder why power comes back just to go out again.

"During a power outage, 18 CES electricians trace the lines and have to visually inspect for obvious defects," said Maj. David Washington 18th CES Operations Flight commander. "This is even more difficult at night, especially if the defect is a hairline crack in an insulator on top of a pole.  When the problem cannot be identified using this method, a more extensive troubleshooting technique is used." 

The technique involves powering up certain areas at time in order to narrow down the location of the problem.

"Depending on the problem, this may be attempted several times at different locations before the problem can be pinpointed," said Washington. "This is why power is restored for some residents only to go back out a little later."

When a power outage happens, the 18th CES works until the problem is fixed.

"We don't go home until the power is back up," said Abbott. "We are like everyone else, we work our normal schedule but when the power outage happens we switch to 24-hour operations and we keep working. It's not uncommon for our guys to end up working 18 hours."

While this is all happening, electricians have certain safety protocols they must adhere to and power may need to stay off until the repairs are made.

The 18th Civil Engineer Squadron operates and maintains more than 730 miles of primary electrical lines here and not every outage occurs for the same reason, which can make the troubleshooting and repair process time consuming.

The 18 CES electricians are working as hard as they can to restore power as quickly as possible while being as safe as possible.

Washington said they will communicate as much information as they can with affected housing residents through 718 CES Housing Maintenance and via Public Affairs' Kadena Air Base Facebook page.