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Timeline emerges for more stable electricity service

The state of electricity generation and distribution in New Providence – and quite a few other islands – has been a disaster for years. When peak-use season comes in the hot Caribbean summer, the state electricity provider is unable to satisfy demand.

What results year after year? Rolling blackouts. They disrupt family life. They disrupt businesses. The electricity fluctuations also destroy appliances and equipment in homes and businesses.

Those with money buy generators. Those who can’t afford them sit frustrated in the dark.

The Minnis administration pledged a solution to the problem. And, after lots of talk and a memorandum of understanding, yesterday, for the first time, a timeline emerged as to what is going to happen, who is going to do it and when it will get done.

Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) announced it signed a contract with the Finnish group Wartsila to install a new 132-megawatt power plant at Clifton Pier. It will cost approximately $95 million.

The engines, which are being manufactured in Trieste, Italy, are scheduled to leave there by the end of March and will take two months to arrive on island.

Once here, installation is expected to take four months.

The new plant is expected to lead to more reliable electricity supply and lower fuel charges on customers’ monthly bills, according to BPL officials.

“The new plant will be tri-fuel, capable of burning heavy fuel oil, diesel oil, or liquefied natural gas (LNG), when it becomes locally available,” said BPL CEO Whitey Heastie, during a press conference at the company’s Tucker Road headquarters.

“This operational flexibility of the new plant is an important step to ensuring energy and price security for The Bahamas.”

According to Wartsila’s Business Development Specialist Edmund Phillips, the plant will be flexible enough to accommodate the unpredictability of renewables, it will be able to burn multiple fuels, it will be reliable, and it will be about 30 percent more efficient than what is at the Blue Hills site.

Heastie said this deal with Wartsila works along with the memorandum of understanding BPL signed with Shell Gas and Power Development B.V. in November for a gas-to-power project.

The MOU established Shell as the project developer, which would include development of marine infrastructure to receive liquefied natural gas, a gas pipeline to bring gas to shore, an onshore LNG regasification terminal and a new 220-plus megawatt power plant.

“The 132 megawatts is a complement of the 220 megawatts that’s committed by Shell. So there’s still another 90 megawatts that has to be built,” said Heastie.

“And so the 90 megawatts will be added at Clifton Pier to complete the 220 megawatts that Shell has committed to build, as a part of the memorandum of understanding.”

It’s good news that more generation is likely to come online this year. No modern country can prosper and grow without a reliable electricity supply.

“We continue to work with Shell. Obviously we signed a memorandum of understanding on November 2 of last year and we are in the stages now of negotiating the definitive agreement, which is ongoing,” said Heastie.

Stabilizing BPL in New Providence would be a major accomplishment for the Minnis administration – one that would be cheered by people on all political sides. Our current energy situation is somewhere between vexing and maddening.

We are not experts in energy generation and distribution, but we hope that along with this new plant, BPL upgrades all the areas of its operation necessary to deliver competent service in New Providence. If accompanying software and transmission changes are needed along with the plant, do it all at once. Let’s bring sanity to the energy situation on our most populous island for the first time in recent memory.

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