BPL blackout ‘embarrasses’ Bahamas

A “major fault” on Bahamas Power and Light’s (BPL) transmission network led to an island-wide blackout on Friday night, according to the power company.

The event impacted thousands of residents and businesses across the island and was even caught live on ESPN.

The Atlantis resort was hosting its annual Battle 4 Atlantis basketball tournament when the blackout occurred. The event was being covered by international media organizations.

A video clip from ESPN, which showed the moment the power went off during a basketball game, went viral on social media.

In a statement, a spokesperson from Atlantis said, “This blackout received international coverage on ESPN as it occurred during the final games of Battle 4 Atlantis.”

The spokesperson added, “Last night’s power outage was extremely disruptive to our business and comes at considerable cost to Atlantis.

“The resort was close to 90 percent occupancy and the irregular dips in power caused our backup generators to fail resulting in extreme inconvenience to our many guests.

“For the first time since Hurricane Dorian, business was close to 2018 levels. This recurring power problem is most unfortunate especially given that the company has offered to deploy interim solutions and BPL has repeatedly rejected them.”

BPL insisted that the outages were not the result of “a loss of generation”.

Instead, it explained that “the cause of last night’s outages has initially been identified as a failure on the transmission network”.

“At this time, the issue appears to have been initiated by a failure on the underground cable between our Big Pond station and our East Hill Street primary substation,” BPL said in a statement on Saturday.

The outage started at 6:40 p.m.

Power was not restored to some areas until after 11 p.m.

According to BPL, it restored power to 75 percent of customers at 8:35 p.m.

However, it had to restart restoration efforts after suffering “a setback due to a secondary problem”.

“Technical challenges during the second attempt at restoration delayed efforts as teams had to address an additional issue but we were able to return about 95 percent of the network to power shortly after 11 p.m.,” BPL said.

“Our standby and emergency teams were able to restore the remaining customers shortly thereafter. Additional repair crews have been dispatched to identify and repair the faults on the transmission network, but these are not affecting any customers.”

Yesterday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said it is “essential” that BPL be fixed.

“BPL has been embarrassing us for over 30 years,” he said.

“We cannot continue to kick the can down the road. For decades, BPL has been plagued by mismanagement. It’s been plagued by waste. It’s been plagued by corruption. It’s been plagued by fraud.

“That must be stopped and we’re about to stop that.” 

As a result of a generation shortfall, BPL consumers across New Providence suffered through load shedding exercises for roughly six months this year.

In August, Minnis called the situation a “crisis”, although he has clarified that it was not an energy crisis, but rather a crisis for the people forced to deal with the outages.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest has declared that the government would spare no finances to find a short-term solution to load shedding.

The following month, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister said that Cabinet had approved the purchase of a 30-megawatt general electric engine to assist with the power generation issues.

On Saturday, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis noted that it was ironic that the blackout would occur on Black Friday.

“They’re changing the true meaning of Black Friday and allowing the Bahamian people to truly experience a blackout Friday,” the opposition leader said.

He said the blackout “clearly shows how they’re not with reality”.

“They’re disconnected from what’s going on,” Davis said.

“We just had the self-congratulatory, self-praises on how well they’re doing and how competent they are. But, everyone who feels it, knows it. We all know how we’ve been suffering from the ineptness of BEC management and the direction from which BEC is going.”

The outage came one day after the Electricity Rate Reduction Bond Bill, 2019, was passed in the House of Assembly.

The bill aims to establish a legislative framework for BPL to raise $650 million through a rate reduction bond.

According to Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, $321.1 million of the funds raised will be used to refinance BPL’s debt, $28 million for solar installations on the Family Islands, $70 million for the expansion of the Wartsila plant at Clifton Pier, $15 million to convert Family Island generation facilities to liquefied natural gas, $15 million for fiberglass cooling pipe replacement, $30 million for an advanced metering infrastructure project and $6 million for system reinforcement and customer connections.

He also said that $48.1 million will be used for 132-kilovolt transmission and substation upgrades, $34.9 million for line upgrades and extensions, $24.7 million for other substation upgrades and $14.3 million for 34.5-kilovolt line upgrades.

On Wednesday, while noting that the power company “performed poorly” over the summer, Minnis stressed that the bill was critical in addressing “a poor legacy of a collapse that started at BPL many, many years ago”.

In March, BPL announced that Finnish technology group Wartsila would install a new 132-megawatt engine power plant at a cost of $95 million to increase the generation capacity on New Providence.

That is projected to be operational on December 15.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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