April 02, 2020

Disaster Area> U.S. Navy; Battleship idea nixed; Hydro turns to other power sources

WASHINGTON — During Bangor Hydro-Electric Co.’s frantic search for backup power the past few days, one of the most intriguing ideas came from a Saturday morning “brainstorming session.”

When company officials realized 8 miles of transmission lines in Washington County had collapsed from the ice storms, and that it could be weeks before power was fully restored, they turned toward the sea for energy — namely, the U.S. Navy.

The plan almost worked.

Bangor Hydro officials asked U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe to contact the Navy about the feasibility of sending a battleship up to Eastport. Once there, the theory went, transformer lines could have been connected to the ship that would send power out through the county. The ship would serve as a backup generator.

“We had a brainstorming session,” said Bangor Hydro spokesman Bill Cohen, on the origin of the plan. “We were just bouncing stuff off [each other].”

Aides to Snowe, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, contacted the command center of the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Va., and put it in touch with the Bangor Hydro officials.

An Atlantic Fleet spokesman said the Navy has done similar work at least twice before, in Oregon and in Hawaii. But in those instances, a submarine docked and was used literally to jump-start a power plant, not to stay docked as a backup generator.

After initial discussions proved upbeat, Cohen said, Bangor Hydro and the Navy discovered that Eastport was not big enough to accommodate a Navy battleship — which could have been in Maine within days.

Instead, the Navy encouraged Bangor Hydro to contact the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, which has barges more suitable to smaller ports like Eastport, according to Snowe’s staff. While they were a proper fit, the slow-moving barges wouldn’t have been in place for 11 days, Cohen said.

Eventually, Bangor Hydro turned toward the more conventional land route, leasing transformers and other power sources. And the Navy ships remained in their usual docks in the Atlantic Fleet.

“It was an idea that could have happened,” Cohen said, “if all the pieces fell together.”

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