Endesa is facing one of the most complex and ambitious challenges that an energy company has undertaken to date in our country. A little over a month ago, the company initiated an Emergency Plan for the electrical reconstruction of La Palma after the damage suffered by the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano. This plan, in which some 40 technicians from Endesa and collaborating companies are working, aims to fully restore the electricity supply to the Canary Island. Subscribe for free to elEconomista Energía to keep up to date with everything that happens in the sector.
This natural disaster has not only buried more than 1,300 buildings and 360 hectares of crops during the three months it has been active, causing, without a doubt, a tragedy of great dimensions that has left hundreds of people homeless and without a way of life. The lava has also seriously damaged the island's electrification system, taking with it 25 distribution centers, more than 136 kilometers of power lines, 85 medium voltage towers, as well as 1,700 supports between wooden poles and the metallic masts that support the low and medium voltage networks, affecting some 2,200 supplies. The damages have reached a cost of around 10 million euros.
The problem with this type of catastrophe, Carlos Lafoz, director of eDistribution for Endesa in the Canary Islands, told elEconomista Energía, "is that you don't know how long they will last and, in addition, it is very difficult to prevent what is going to happen". In the case of La Palma, the lava flows have flowed in a capricious way, which has caused a random rupture of the networks, "so that the decisions that were taken one day to minimize the damage that was occurring in one area, three or four days later were of no use because the lava had taken another direction".
In these three months, not only have electrical installations been lost in the areas where the lava has flowed, but also lines have been cut to areas where the lava never reached. Endesa's main concern was that these lava flows would cause a cascade of electrical poles to fall and cause short circuits or failures in the network, leaving more areas without voltage. To avoid this, "we tried to get there before the lava and open the circuits or unhook cables from the poles and lower them to the ground to avoid traction on the rest of the towers," explains Lafoz.
As soon as the eruption began, Endesa implemented a Contingency Plan. One of the first measures was to move several generators to the island. One of them was installed in La Condesa (Tazacorte) to feed the distribution center in the area because, although it was left intact, the medium voltage line was only devastated by the lava for a few meters. The other generator set is in an area of La Laguna where the cables feeding 64 houses that have been left standing were damaged. "Fortunately, we have been able to control the situation quite well and there have only been outages in the evacuated areas," says Lafoz.
As part of the Contingency Plan, the company has also mobilized two portable transformer stations, a laboratory vehicle to detect possible damage to the subway wiring and pressure groups to clean the ashes. It has also installed 12 additional remote controls which are operated from the control center in order to be quicker in the event of any incident. To assess the extent of the damage, especially in areas close to the volcano, Endesa has carried out flights with drones. The company has also used a thermographic camera to monitor those lines where the ringing has been lost in order to detect any faults and proceed to repair them.
A day before scientists officially declared the Cumbre Vieja eruption over, Endesa launched an emergency plan to rebuild the island's electricity system and return it to normal as soon as possible. It will be a different network," says Carlos Lafoz, "since it is difficult to lay new lines where the lava has passed through. In some areas we are trying to dig through the lava, but the temperature is still very high and there are gases being released. We are working hand in hand with the Cabildo to see where the traces of the new roads are going to pass and take advantage of these works to be able to pass tubulars with subway lines and rebuild the rings". A titanic task whose economic scope has not yet been evaluated, "since it will depend on the solutions we have to use depending on the degree of difficulty we encounter".
One of the most immediate objectives of the Reconstruction Plan is to be able to supply all the buildings that have been left outside the lava perimeter. The first measures are focusing on the installation of two portable thermal power plants. The first plant has been installed in the Hermosilla area, near the Valle substation (north of Los Llanos de Aridane), with a capacity to supply 9 MW, whose function is to guarantee that, in the event of a failure of the transmission line, the Valle substation, which could not be supplied due to the lack of rings, can be supplied. At present, work has already begun on the second plant in Las Manchas, with a capacity of 4 MW, an area which until a few days ago could not be accessed due to the large amount of gases and ashes, and which will replace the line which electrically rings the north with the south of La Palma.
Citizen support plan
A few days after the eruption began, Endesa implemented a special support plan for customers affected by the volcano, in order to mitigate the economic and social consequences at this difficult time.
Among these measures are the suspension of supply cuts, personalized payment plans to defer or split bills, as well as the termination of contracts and cancellation of bills for customers who have lost their homes due to the volcano. In total, Endesa has cancelled the contracts of 2,700 supply points, which can be reestablished at no cost to the owners as soon as they decide to request the resumption.
The energy company also launched the option of benefiting from a 50% reduction in the bill for six months. A total of 10,120 applications have been processed, of which 9,406 were made through the three Endesa points of sale in La Palma. The remaining 714 applications were made by means of the free telephone number set up for this purpose.