Sark’s power grid not fit for purpose – report

SARK’S power grid is not fit for purpose, contains serious safety concerns, and the main generators are believed to be past their design life, a report has stated.

Sark Electricity Limited. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 30232422)
Sark Electricity Limited. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 30232422)

The information comes from an electric safety report conducted by Electrical Infrastructure Services at the behest of Sark’s government this year.

Policy & Finance chairman John Guille said the report revealed a severe lack of investment from Sark Electricity Limited and he believed the report supported Chief Pleas’ decision to move forward with compulsory purchase legislation for the government’s acquisition of the utility from the current private owners.

The report cited multiple areas of concern.

‘The majority of the equipment should be treated as being at the end of its life and be considered for immediate replacement,’ EIS said.

Most transformers are from an era when PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were used in the oil. PCBs are from a family of man-made organic chemicals broadly manufactured from 1929 until banned in 1987 by the UK.

PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals as well as a number of serious non-cancer health issues in animals, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health areas. Studies in humans support evidence for potential carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic effects.

‘This represents a serious health hazard,’ EIS said.

‘The cost of disposal and incineration is considerable, aside from the logistics of removal from Sark.’

The transformers are all of a type that cost much more to operate than modern units.

Much of the network equipment is not fenced or within a building to prevent access by unauthorised people and virtually none of the switchgear has locks on the mechanisms to prevent unauthorised operation.

There appears to be little evidence of proper scheduled maintenance being done other than exterior painting, although EIS said it cannot be certain of this without access to documentation or records.

However, EIS said the overgrown vegetation and over- painted cover bolts and oil drain taps give some weight to this claim.

There are no danger or warning labels on the equipment and very few circuit designation labels.

‘The report is particularly worrying on a Sark-specific scale. We’re talking about the highly likely presence of PCBs in some of the grid equipment and transformers.

‘PCBs are a carcinogen, and if allowed by accident or mishap to find its way into our ground water, it does not bear thinking about the clean-up logistically or financially,’ said Conseiller Guille.

Conseillers at Chief Pleas’ extraordinary meeting last week unanimously supported the direction of the compulsory purchase legislation drafted by P&F.

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