Monday, Jul 22, 2019

An Epic Fail

There is nothing surprising about the ongoing generation issues that plague Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) today.

It is not an anomaly, as BPL Chairman Dr. Donovan Moxey said. It’s a tragedy.

The company has one mandate: supply reliable and affordable electricity to its customers. Yet, for the last week, it has failed to provide reliable electricity. It has failed for decades and hence there are no surprises here, only frustration.

For seven straight days, BPL has conducted load shedding exercises on New Providence.

Frustration peaked over the weekend when the promised two-hour load shedding on New Providence turned into three or four hours for some. Some residents complained that their power went off multiple times.

The frustration manifested into rage on social media. BPL’s Facebook page was filled with angry, venomous posts.

All the while BPL remained relatively quiet. On Sunday, the company issued a statement, blaming the outages on an increase in consumer demand and a lack of generation capacity. It was the same old excuse. Bahamians were not having it.

BPL then called a press conference first thing Monday morning where its chairman apologized. He said BPL failed to keep the lights on for Bahamians and that the company will endeavor to do better.

Rental generator units will be in place by the end of the week, he said.

The new 132-megawatt plant would be completed in the “early fall”, he said.

Promises and more promises.

In April, Moxey said he did not expect any load shedding this summer. As The Guardian’s cartoonist Stan Burnside said in his daily cartoon Sideburns, what a load of shed.

Successive governments have promised to end the problem and they’ve failed.

The Bahamian people appear to be involved in an abusive relationship with a power company that promises to do better but never does.

We’ve been duped, summer after summer, into believing that the power would stay on.

In fact, as I wrote this article, the power at The Nassau Guardian went out. The newsroom was plunged into darkness and there was a collective cry of despair.

A history of problems

A glance through The Guardian’s Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) archives show an overwhelming number of articles about blackouts, load shedding and apologies from the government.

On July 8, 1981, The Nassau Guardian’s front page was dedicated to one issue: load shedding.

“Widespread island-wide load shedding will be in effect for the fourth full day today when the beleaguered Bahamas Electricity Corporation plans to provide the city’s business sector with four hours of electrical supplies staggered over the morning and afternoon hours,” Vern Darville wrote under the headline “Electricity: Business areas to get priority”.

The story said that banks were closing early and that flights filled with angry tourists were departing Nassau.

Darville wrote that “hotels were virtually deserted as disgusted and tired guests checked out, many of them vowing never to return”.

The Free National Movement, then led by the late Kendal Isaacs, called for the appointment of a commission to investigate the country’s utilities.

Another article, written by Wendy Miller, pointed to consumers who were fearful of buying meats and dairy from food stores due to concerns over the prolonged power outages during that time.

Funny enough, the lead photo on that day was a picture from BEC’s headquarters, which was also in darkness. The caption read, “The Bahamas Electricity Corporation can truly be said to be non-discriminating in its load shedding procedures as its Big Pond headquarters was off-load for most of Tuesday.” The caption noted that temperatures inside the building were a “stifling 90 degrees”.

So, this is not a new issue.

There’s a story from September 2, 1989 about load shedding. There’s another one in 1988, 1990, 1991 and well, you get the idea.

The promises are just as frequent.

In a September 8, 1997 story, under the headline “BEC’s mission for ‘97 is to provide reliable, safe, cost-effective supply of electricity”, then BEC Assistant General Manager Anthony Forbes said, “You the customer define service quality for us.

“Your service should be free from interruption, free from spikes, at the correct frequency and correct voltage.”

In a May 8, 2003 article, under the headline, “Roberts: ‘Everything cool’ this summer”, then BEC General Manager the late Bradley Roberts said there would be fewer power outages for that year.

Of course, everything was not cool.

The outages were frequent that year, according to The Guardian’s archives.

The headline on November 7 of that year told the story: “Blackout”.

The Bahamas will celebrate 46 years as an independent country next month.

But we will also celebrate 46 years of unreliable electricity.

We are at the mercy of a power provider that just can’t get it right.

Why?

Why are we still grappling with an issue that our neighbors to the north seem to have mastered?

In May, BPL signed a contract with Finnish technology group Wartsila to install a 132-megawatt engine power plant at the Clifton Pier site that will cost approximately $95 million.

During his contribution to the 2019/2020 budget debate, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister said once the plant is up, “we will begin a new phase of energy efficiency and reliability in New Providence”.

That remains to be seen.

For most Bahamians though, last night was one spent in darkness.

Travis Cartwright-Carroll

Assistant Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Travis Cartwright-Carroll is the assistant editor. He covers a wide range of national issues. He joined The Nassau Guardian in 2011 as a copy editor before shifting to reporting. He was promoted to assistant news editor in December 2018.
Education: College of The Bahamas, English

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