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BPL still unclear what caused blackout

Officials at Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) were still troubleshooting the root cause of an island-wide shutdown on Monday night that lasted more than four hours, according to BPL CEO Whitney Heastie.

During a press conference at BPL headquarters, Heastie said preliminary reports indicate that lightning struck a transformer which impacted the transmission lines, leading to a system-wide shutdown.

But Heastie explained that BPL was still seeking to determine why the fail-safe did not prevent the shutdown.

“We have begun more detailed analysis as to what the cause of that outage was, in regards to the equipment that took the hit and failed,” he said.

“Those results are preliminary, and we are still making final determinations as to what we need to do to mitigate such results from a hit on the system in the future.

“Anytime there is lightning in the area, there are systems that are designed to protect against lightning strikes, and as I’ve said previously, the network, or the grid as we call it, is designed to isolate faults, depending on where the fault occur, and the magnitude of the fault.

“[But] because this fault was directly in the power plant, it had a magnitude that was very severe.

“In simple terms, if something was to happen further away from the plant, the plant has a faster time to react. The closer it is to the plant, the response of the protection system has to be a whole lot faster. So, when you are trying to design protection systems, you then have to consider, where, when and magnitude of hits on the system, so the system can act appropriately, but [not to] dumb the system down so much or speed it up so fast that it is acting prematurely.”

When asked about claims from the Bahamas Electrical Workers Union that the protection system requires a multimillion-dollar upgrade, Heastie’s response was somewhat vague.

He explained that the new board has not completed an extensive study of all BPL’s transmission and distribution.

“I would not put stock in the cost of the remediation or the fixes to the protection system, because obviously we have to, first of all, study the system, understand what needs to be fixed, then assess a value to that,” Heastie said.

“We are not at that point yet. We are still trying to do the study. The grid is pretty comprehensive. If you look at the poles and wires around just New Providence… it is a pretty complex system.”

BPL has 21 major primary substations in New Providence.

The transmissions lines from the power plants to the substations, and the distribution networks to households and other customers each have to be looked at, according to Heastie.

He said it will take time to model and study, and there will be no “easy fix”.

The island was offline for more than four hours on Monday evening, from 6:30 p.m. to around 11 p.m., impacting thousands of residents.

The island-wide blackout this week and the one which occurred in April, which lasted more than three hours, has prompted questions about how BPL will bear the load during the peak demand of the summer.

Heastie answered those concerns yesterday, stressing that the power provider has more than sufficient capacity, and has spent the last several months preparing, but BPL is still not “where we want to be”.

“We’ve still got some work to do,” he acknowledged.

“But I think, given where we are, from whence we came, I think we are well on our way to making sure that we can supply the loads that are needed this summer.”

The current board was appointed a year ago, on the heels of a challenged summer plagued with persistent outages on New Providence and other islands, including Abaco, Bimini and Exuma.

Meanwhile, Heastie, who was appointed CEO last October, said BPL has overhauled and resolved the major challenges of those three Family Islands to date.

As it relates to New Providence, Heastie said there will be no load-shedding in the coming months, as BPL has 450 megawatts of power; the peak demand is around 260 megawatts.

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