Power supply challenges island to island

As New Providence’s energy crisis continues to wreak havoc on lives and businesses, Perspective followed up on power generation concerns on the islands of Bimini, Abaco and Grand Bahama to find out how service providers have managed challenges and how residents are coping with blackouts as they occur.

In May, a fire at Bahamas Power & Light’s (BPL) power station on Bimini caused an immediate island-wide outage that, though subsequently restored, has been followed with blackouts.

When questioned recently by Perspective on the status of power generation on Bimini, BPL Director of Public Relations Quincy Parker advised that “with the addition of four megawatts of power from rented Aggrekos, BPL Bimini has about 6.5 megawatts, with a present demand of 5.6 megawatts.”

Parker revealed that over a two-week period between July 23 and August 7 there was a total of nine blackouts on Bimini.

When asked when a report on the BPL fire in Bimini will be made public and why blackouts were continuing if capacity on the island now exceeds demand, Parker said the cause of the fire is still under investigation by the insurance loss adjusters.

As for continued outages, Parker pointed out that the causes were not as a result of problems with BPL’s generating capacity.

“Some of these incidents resulted when generators tripped offline [due to] temperature-related concerns, other mechanical defects, etc, and power was restored once the concern had been dealt with,” he noted.

“We wish to assure the public that we are taking advantage of all available assistance and resources, including external expertise (engine manufacturer representatives from M&E, Aggreko and others) to keep the generation situation stable until such time as the formal RFP (request for proposals) for the replacement of the station-based generation is released, awarded and works completed.”

For Bimini residents who spoke to Perspective via Facebook in response to our query on the impact of outages there, blackouts on the island are a pain they are anxious to see resolved.

“I had to leave church last Sunday because of the heat,” said Donna Grant. “Electricity kept going off and on so we couldn’t use the fans. I have to keep unplugging my electric stove because the power knocked out my oven panel and BPL would not replace it last year. Too many outages. When the power is on, I’m afraid to keep on my air condition because the bill is so high. They need to get it right.”

Valerie Norton replied: “There were many power outages day and night in South Bimini before the fire. We were there from January until the first week in July. We closed up our house and left, just couldn’t take it anymore. I have been in Bimini for 35 years and have never experienced anything like this!”

Visitor Ed Strobel gave his personal account of sailing to Bimini three to four weeks after the BPL fire, highlighting the challenges encountered at the island’s hotels due to rolling blackouts.

“Next trip we will skip all the marinas and just plan on anchoring out the whole time. BPL is not keeping up with the demand and that will cause people to go elsewhere and not spend as much money in The Bahamas,” he said.

Kelly Shaughnessy, a volunteer firefighter on Bimini who responded to the BPL fire, echoed the sentiments of residents who have suffered equipment damage due to power surges.

“The people on Bimini work very hard for what they have!!” she stressed. “Many people have had cell phones, refrigerators, ACs, microwaves and other appliances get fried or ruined when the power surge comes on. That’s frustrating for me to see! It’s also another fire hazard. My Bimini family and friends deserve a lot better!!!”

Jeffrey Davis, meanwhile, recommended that BPL address the noise pollution that emanates from its generators.

“The plant is in the middle of a modern subdivision and Bailey Town and Alice Town, neighbors suffer from noise,” he pointed out.

Some residents applauded BPL for its response after the fire, and reconciled that while the outages are a nuisance, they pale in comparison to what is being suffered in New Providence.

Parker informed Perspective that a request for proposals for the demolition of Bimini’s existing power station is currently under final evaluation, adding that BPL is in communication “with the two leading vendors and is finalizing selection in conjunction with insurance advisors”.

Abaco “needs more capacity”

When contacted by Perspective on the impact of power outages on Abaco, Abaco Chamber of Commerce President Kenneth Hutton indicated that while blackouts are “not experienced near the level of disruption being felt in Nassau”, regular outages still occur.

“The primary issue in Abaco is the distribution system has not been upgraded so a failure in one location affects everything downstream from that point,” he said. “Harsh weather, lightning strikes or other things are common events that happen at one place but wind up affecting good portions of the entire island and the cays.”

Hutton asserted that Abaco is “rapidly outgrowing” the supply of power to the island and will need more generating capacity soon.

“The business community would like to see a move in this direction to involve renewable sources like solar and bio-mass,” he continued, “but we have been informed by BPL that Abaco is not a priority so we are stuck waiting on several viable, private, fully-funded energy proposals.

“As a result, we continue to pay the highest energy costs in the region which, in turn, continue to suppress initiatives in industry, manufacturing and agriculture.”

Grand Bahama “mechanical issues” addressed

The Grand Bahama Power Company’s (GBPC) electricity infrastructure has over the years suffered major damage from devastating hurricanes, but the company has been able to recover and continue to provide consistent power supply to the island.

In recent weeks though, uncharacteristic blackouts have been cause for some concern, though according to GBPC Corporate Communications Manager Cleopatra Russell, the problems that triggered the outages have been addressed.

“In early July, mechanical issues impacted a number of units at our Energy Center, lessening the company’s generating capacity and impacting our service to customers,” Russell told Perspective yesterday. “These issues were resolved within two weeks and our generating capacity has returned to normal levels.

“The mechanical equipment failures required GBPC to seek specialist assistance from MAN Energy. MAN personnel traveled on island and supported GBPC’s Energy team as they worked to safely rectify the issues and bring generation capacity back to normal levels.”

Residents on the island encountered outages lasting as much as two hours at a time, though Russell stressed that the company worked to ensure that outages were not experienced more than once in a 48-hour period throughout the duration of the mechanical issues.

When questioned by Perspective on the reasons for the island’s larger industrial companies being asked to temporarily come off the power grid, Russell explained that the company’s “load management plan” came into effect during its period of mechanical failures, and that industrial companies were compensated for providing the service of coming off the grid.

“To ensure that our customers are not further inconvenienced by unforeseen mechanical issues at our Energy Center, GBPC has proactively secured additional temporary generation assets,” she advised.

“These assets will ensure that our customers are not impacted by outages on an ongoing basis.”

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