Sunday, Oct 13, 2019
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And the BPL blackouts continue

The mismanagement of the country’s power supply continues.

We were pained to read the trite, indifferent response by Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister to questions from this newspaper’s reporter, Jasper Ward, about the continuing power outages experienced on our capital island.

Bannister blamed last weekend’s power failures on old generators. He seemed blissfully unaware that the last time we checked generators of the same make and age continued to function without fault in Jamaica.

And he failed to express any concern or regret over how power failures impact the lives of residents — children and the elderly, the infirmed – some reliant on electrically powered lifesaving equipment, or commercial enterprises that lose on multiple fronts: lost trade and services, damaged equipment and ruined supplies, particularly fresh and frozen items left to melt and spoil.

A review of the functioning of Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) since Bannister and the Free National Movement (FNM) assumed responsibility in May 2017 is telling.

The arrangement under negotiation by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government with the international energy company New Fortress to provide power generating capacity for New Providence was canceled. Instead, BPL issued a request for proposals (RFP) for short-term power supply for New Providence in September 2017.

BPL received 19 responses and announced in February 2018 that it had chosen Shell NA which had submitted a proposal for long-term power supply. In response to complaints that Shell NA had not complied with the RFP terms, Bannister advised that each of the 19 bidders had been free to submit proposals for the long-term supply of energy notwithstanding the RFP’s call for short-term supply only.

In April 2018, BPL announced that Shell NA LNG LLC & Affiliates had been awarded a contract to build a new 220-megawatt generation and liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant at Clifton Pier.

Throughout the summer of 2018, a number of experienced electrical engineers and others experienced in power generation were offered voluntary retirement packages by BPL.

In August 2018, the chairman and most of the BPL board were fired amid allegations of discord among board members and the minister.

Reports on the two fires at the BPL Clifton Plant in September 2018 have not been released to the public.

In March 2019, BPL signed an agreement with Finnish technology group Wartsila for the installation of a new multimillion-dollar power plant at BPL’s Clifton Pier site. We do not recall a RFP for this installation and the terms of the agreement with Wartsila have never been made public.

The public was advised that by the end of summer 2019, BPL would have a new 132-megawatt engine power plant.

BPL CEO Whitney Heastie promised that consumers in New Providence would see both a substantial improvement in power reliability in New Providence and a lower fuel surcharge on their monthly billing.

The public was also advised that the development would permit BPL to discontinue the $2 million monthly rental of Aggreko power generators. Rather than discontinuation of rental of the Aggreko generators, BPL had to increase rental generators in a failing effort to cope with the summer demand for power in New Providence.

The highly anticipated arrival of the new Wartsila generators began in June 2019. Reports reaching us indicate that the generator platforms at the Clifton power plant are unsuitable for the new generators. New ones must be put in place.

The promise of a September completion date for the installation of the seven new Wartsila generators will not be realized. It is questionable whether the management of BPL has any idea of their responsibility to the Bahamian public. In the meantime, the public continues to suffer power outages.

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