Island power

Two 4-mile-long underwater cables from Marblehead on the mainland supply power to Kelleys Island.

Supplying electricity to an island is no small feat. Supplying reliable electricity to the largest American island on Lake Erie is a monumental task.

Kelleys Island, one of the most popular tourist destinations anywhere in Ohio, is entirely served by Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative, which has been charged with that job since its 1967 consolidation with the former Lake Erie Electric Cooperative.

“The power that energizes Kelleys Island comes via two 4-mile-long underwater cables from Marblehead on the mainland,” says Bill Barnhart, vice president of engineering and operations at Hancock-Wood Electric. “That redundancy helps ensure that the power stays on even if one cable is damaged or otherwise becomes incapable of its supply duties.”

The cable to the west was laid in 2003, and it is fully capable of supplying all the island’s needs well into the future. The east cable, however, had been most recently replaced in 1970, when the island’s operating voltage was less than half of what it is today. If something were to happen to the west cable, that east cable would no longer have been able to power the island on its own.

“The cable is specifically located by GPS and is charted for boaters to be aware of its position,” Barnhart says. “It also has some protective insulation built into it to avoid potential damage. But things happen, and we need to be prepared if they do.”

So workers cut up and removed the old east cable — finding no less than seven boat anchors that had been caught on the cable and abandoned — and laid a new one on the floor of Lake Erie. It was tested and fully energized right before Christmas.

Barring damage from a severe ice incident or entanglement with a super-sized anchor, Barnhart says the new cable should last a minimum of 50 years, thanks to improved technology in the electrical insulation and other cable protection.