Plans by NB Power to replace the subsea cable providing electric power to Campobello and Grand Manan include a special surprise: fiber optic cables that can be used to bring enhanced Internet connectivity to the Fundy Isles.
According to NB Power Project Manager Wendi Wright, the existing cable is currently operating "at about half capacity" but after 40 years is nearing its design lifetime. Wright, who spoke with Campobello residents at an open house at the community center on September 13, stressed that the existing cable is not showing any signs of failure but that it is time to install the replacement. Six representatives were present, including both engineers and environmental experts.
Diagrams provided by NB Power show that the cable, which includes three large conductors to provide three‑phase power to the islands, also includes three bundles of fiber optic cables. "We don't really need these," said one of the representatives, "but since it costs very little to put them in it would be shortsighted not to." The cable, according to one engineer, costs "about three to four hundred dollars per meter," but the addition of the fiber lines only adds "about two dollars per meter" and nothing to the burial costs. He cited one case where a utility had not, until prompted, thought to include these lines but now leases them to an Internet provider, helping defray costs of the cable. According to representatives, NB Power will make the fiber optic cables available but restrict its own usage to system communications needs.
Brooke Young of the Deer Island/Campobello Fibre Project Inc. says, "This is a very positive development and absolutely is the pivotal component of achieving our goal of seeing a true physical fibre connection to the World Wide Web, which is an absolute necessity to the survival of our rural communities in today's digital world." The Deer Island/Campobello Fibre Project currently has an application in to the federal government's Connect to Innovate program. The proposal is the first phase of a two-phase plan to improve Internet service on Deer Island and Campobello. Young adds, "The undersea cable was 90% of the cost and the biggest hurdle of the second phase of our project. So now that this undersea cable component is being taken care of by NB Power, there should be absolutely no excuses from Bell [Aliant] or the federal government."
Young points out, during an interview, that the ability to connect to Campobello, Deer Island and Grand Manan will allow Internet service providers to offer service to a much larger population, making a project more economically attractive.
The planned installation will largely follow the existing cable route and utilize existing infrastructure such as the transformer station at Wilson's Beach. Operating at 69 kilovolts and with a capacity of 50 megawatts, the new cables will "allow for the potential addition of future renewable energy projects," according to handout material.
Interference with fishing operations is not anticipated, said Wright. "The fishermen already know where the cable is. It's been on their charts for years." The cable is protected by "double helical armour" in case of accidental contact by an anchor or dragging gear.
NB Power anticipates completing the project in the fall of 2019. "People won't know when we switch it over," Wright says.