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BPL still investigating cause of recent outages

While noting that the generation crisis that caused frequent and extended outages last summer is over, Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) officials said more investment is needed before there is truly reliable electricity on New Providence.

The comments came a day after islandwide outages on New Providence on Friday.

BPL Director of Field Operations Sterling Moss said officials had yet to determine the cause of two separate system disturbances that caused the outages.

“In the first instance, areas in the east of New Providence were offline,” he said.

“[O]ur Blue Hills and Big Pond substations were affected.”

He added, “[Then] around about 2 [p.m.] yesterday, the mainline between our Clifton Pier and Blue Hills substation came at a fault. And this impacted areas around Clifton Pier.

“[At] present, the reasons behind both outages are under investigation. So, these remain active investigations. And so, by sometime next week, we’ll be able to determine what was the root cause of both faults.”

Moss insisted that the outages were not load shedding.

“The incidents yesterday had nothing to do with generation,” he said.

“We have had no incidents of load shedding during the summer. The generation on this island is sufficient.”

However, CEO Whitney Heastie acknowledged that customers don’t care why the outages are happening, but simply want reliability.

He said that while the generation issues on New Providence have been solved, with 380 megawatts of generation on the island, while typical peak demand is 250 megawatts, issues remain in the transmission and distribution (T&D) network.

Heastie said he expects BPL’s rate reduction bond to allow the company to make the necessary upgrades.

“The customer really doesn’t care where the outages are,” he said.

“The customer just wants power. And so, whether it’s a generation issue, a transmission issue or distribution issue, the customer just wants to know the complete network is intact.”

Heastie added, “We need, on a monthly basis, $30 million to $40 million just to run the day-to-day operation.

“That does not account for the capital improvements. So, just to put in the new infrastructure to export the power out of the west at Clifton Pier where our largest consumers are in the east, we need more transmission networks. Right now, we’ve got, really, four transmission networks.

“[T]hat’s not enough if we’re putting more generation [in Clifton]. [So], that’s going to be about $40 million to put that infrastructure in. We also need money to upgrade the actual protection system.

“[T]he rate reduction bond is going to allow the company to make the capital investments to really fortify the transmission and distribution network.”

When asked how long it will be for the necessary upgrades to be in place, BPL Director of Operations Ian Pratt said they will be done “over the next couple of years”.

“As with everything, it’s in stages,” he said.

“The first part is the improvements to the protection systems. You will have an event at some point, and you need to make sure that you contain that event as much as possible, so that you only affect the persons that you really need to.

“[So], we’re doing that part of it right now. The lion’s share of it is investment in the capacity. And when I say that, you’re talking about building new circuits. And so, as we would have been seeing over the past few months, we put station A at Clifton Pier. That’s 130 megawatts. We had existing generation at Clifton Pier that’s still generating.

“And so, you want to be able to bring that generation now to where you need to use it on this side of the island. As we move now in the next part of our project, which is what we call station D, which is additional generation at Clifton Pier, certainly we need to put in additional line capacity to bring all of that out. There is currently sufficient capacity between Clifton Pier and Big Pond.

“[B]ut what that $40 million is aimed at is ensuring that we have redundancy in the network, sufficient capacity to bring the new generation once station D comes online, up to Big Pond and Blue Hills.”

Last year, customers on New Providence experienced months of extensive load shedding exercises due to a generation shortfall. The completion of a 132-megawatt Wartsila plant at the Clifton Pier station in December was touted as the solution to the frequent outages on New Providence.

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