Bahamas Electrical Utility Managerial Union (BEUMU) President Anthony Christie yesterday urged Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) to ensure that employees are adequately trained as it prepares to build a new $95 million power plant at the Clifton Pier site.
BPL announced on Monday that it has signed a contract with Finnish technology group Wartsila to install a new 132-megawatt engine power plant, which is expected to be completed this year and will lead to more reliable electricity supply and lower fuel charges on customers’ monthly bills.
In a statement, Christie said, “The BEUMU is looking out for its members and all staff at the company and is concerned about the people who work at the company, who are major stakeholders in the future of the company. What role will we play?”
He said the voluntary separation exercise conducted by BPL last year resulted in the departure of many skilled workers from the company.
“The BEUMU needs to emphasize that the company still has trained and skilled technicians and professionally registered engineers still on staff, and they should be utilized and given the opportunity to perform,” he continued.
“If skills are not readily available then our workers need to work along with the experts to be trained and learn those skills.
“It’s not that we do not understand a Wartsila engine. As in any industry, a company acquiring new fleet requires the staff to train on its operation and maintenance.
“The company needs to start now to build the competence in the staff to operate the new plant, especially a gas-fired plant, due to the new processes and safety issues.
“The BEUMU requires the company to not only be talking about installing new engines, but they need to ensure we talk about the development of our people for these operations.
“As this plant will be operated for many years, we need Bahamians to be developed so that they not only have just a job but a career from which they can provide for their families and develop our nation. We need to become the experts here.”
According to Wartsila Business Development Manager Edmund Phillips, all works on the plant will be managed by Wartsila and local staff will be used where applicable.
However, he noted that in order to install these engines, specialized skill sets are required.
BPL CEO Whitney Heastie said there is currently no one at BPL who could understand Wartsila’s four-stroke engines, and so the company is relying on Wartsila for those skills.
Bahamas Electrical Workers Union (BEWU) President Paul Maynard also expressed fears that Bahamians will be treated as “second-class citizens”.
While Christie commended BPL on the steps it has taken to improve operations, he questioned the deal as it relates to the projected timeline and the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed with Shell Gas and Power Development B.V. in November for a gas-to-power project.
“The company is on the right path to lowering the energy prices through fuel diversification and through the introduction of renewables, and the BEUMU supports these efforts,” he said.
“However, we are still challenged now as summer approaches, and the timeline outlined — though it is aggressive — will not have us see any significant changes until the latter part of the year.
“With the current generation capacity we still need help going into summer as the load continues to increase.
“In addition, there are a lot of questions and details to be exposed regarding the Shell agreement and the future of the company, in particular generation operations.”
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications