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URCA to investigate BPL fires

The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) is preparing to launch its own investigation into recent fires at Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) over the past several days, its CEO, Stephen Bereaux, said yesterday.

“We’ve had an initial report on the first set of fires, and as has been reported, BPL is having a more detailed investigation done themselves, and that has to be our starting point. We’d get in their way if we started our investigation now,” Bereaux said while a guest on Guardian Radio talk show “Morning Blend”.

“To the extent that we’ve obviously had a tumultuous couple of weeks with BPL, they have had a tumultuous couple of weeks, and clearly what’s needed is someone needs to ensure, and this would be the role of the regulator, that BPL’s fixes are done in the right environment and in the right way. Our role is, we’d have to investigate what happened over the last couple of weekends and that’s a process.

“We get a report from them initially and then we go back with questions and we do our own investigation to determine whether there was any wrongdoing by BPL. Accidents can happen, so the question is, is this an accident or is this something BPL could have and should have prevented?”

The most recent fire on Saturday night was at a distribution center at BPL’s Blue Hills power plant. It resulted in some residences connected to that grid being without power for up to 12 hours.

It was the fourth fire in just eight days, with the previous three happening at BPL’s Clifton Pier power station the previous weekend.

Bereaux said an investigation would be URCA’s short-term, immediate response to the problem, however long-term fixes may be “trickier”.

“The long-term issue is working with BPL to try to afford them a regulatory environment where they can do the work that is needed to improve the assets effectively, the transmission, the generation assets in the country, so that we no longer bring ourselves back to situations like this and that maintenance can happen in a timely way,” Bereaux said.

“Because clearly, and this is a similar situation to when URCA took over the telecommunications sector, there are legacy problems. These are problems that have developed over decades. I don’t think anyone is going to be trying to blame today’s BPL leadership and management for the problems. The question obviously is, ‘What is the leadership and management doing to get us past the problems?’ And where URCA comes in is working with them as an independent body to oversee that it is [going] in the right way so that we don’t over pay or end up back where we are.”

But where URCA has in the past been able to levy fines against companies in the telecommunications sector because of the impact of their shortcomings on the public, Bereaux said it’s a bit more challenging with BPL.

“It is a tricky situation to be in because many of the regulatory tools that you have may make things worse. So, with BTC several years ago there were some challenges and we were able to penalize and fine BTC, that was partially possible because BTC also has an external shareholder that has the wherewithal to provide the necessary investment, so it’s really only a matter of incentivizing that shareholder to put more effort to fix these problems. [It is] a little trickier with BPL,” he said.

“We have a more mature regulatory framework with the electronic communications sector. That is a competitive sector, predominantly privately owned, and the advantage that competition gives you is that when one competitive player fails you have an alternative. So, to an extent the ability for a regulatory framework to work effectively in a competitive environment is different than regulating a monopoly, especially a monopoly of an essential service which is owned by the government.”

Paige McCartney

Business Reporter at The Nassau Guardian
Paige joined The Nassau Guardian in 2010 as a television news reporter and anchor. She has covered countless political and social events that have impacted the lives of Bahamians and changed the trajectory of The Bahamas.
Paige started working as a business reporter in August 2016.
Education: Palm Beach Atlantic University in 2006 with a BA in Radio and Television News
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