As Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) continues to restore electricity to Abaco bit by bit, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has recommended structural uniformity and a higher quality of rebuilding material to ensure a more resilient power infrastructure in the face of devastating natural disasters.
The report estimates that total damage in the power sector was $131.3 million, of which $8.4 million was from damage to the transmission and distribution networks on Abaco and $21 million was from damage to the flooded power generation plant on Grand Bahama.
The report, “Assessment of the Effects and Impacts of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas”, states that policies and investment programs are critical to reduce existing risks and prevent new ones from arising in the power sector.
“In support of developing a more resilient power infrastructure on the island of Abaco, attention should be given to the two major 34.5kV transmission lines that run from the Wilson City power plant to the Marsh Harbour power plant and storage facility (one power line on each side of the main road). The DALA (damage and loss assessment) team observed that one of these lines went down during the hurricane, while the other remained intact. This was due to the higher category of poles used for supporting the line that remained standing and operational. The consistent use of higher category poles is recommended for reconstruction, especially in the cases of essential power lines that connect the island’s power stations,” the report states.
“Also of importance are the poles that support the power lines that go to the hospital and ports, as these are essential infrastructure that must remain connected to the power supply. This situation reaffirms the need to establish quality and operation guidelines for private operators of public services, especially as electricity availability affects a variety of essential services, such as telecommunications and health. Further resilience can be added through the installation of storm guy wires to the transmission system. These additional points of support help to harden the more essential parts of the transmission and distribution grid and allow less damage during weather-related disasters.”
The IDB has also recommended more uniformed transmission and distribution lines when rebuilding.
“Five different voltage levels for transmission and distribution lines were observed, each of which required their own type of transformers and other supporting equipment. A helpful policy moving forward would be the standardization of the distribution network through the consistent use of equipment that supports one voltage level,” the report states.
“This should allow for easier storage of the necessary materials for repairs and recovery and for more cost-efficient procurement practices. Further, there are implications for human resources as linesmen and other maintenance staff can be familiar with one standard throughout the island, saving the need for specialized labor depending on the type of system damaged.”
At last report, BPL officials said they have spent approximately $30 million in power restoration efforts on Abaco.
The IDB, through interviews with BPL officials for the creation of its report, found that $6.3 million has been spent on labor and labor-support costs.
Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister initially projected $80-$90 million would be needed to fully restore power on that island.
“Total losses were estimated at $68.9 million, reflecting the value of power that was not sold, both because of damage to the transmission and distribution network and because of the reduction in demand for electricity as a result of storm damage,” the IDB states.
“Losses were estimated until December 2021 as recovery is expected to take at least this time or even longer to return to normal levels. An estimated loss of $22 million was made for the remainder of the year 2019; $40 million for the year 2020; and $6.8 million for the year 2021.”
The report also highlights the issue of security on Abaco in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, pointing to various breaches including vandalization at various BPL facilities, vehicle theft and interference with a fuel tank in an attempt to steal diesel.
“In the case of the breached fuel tank, a catastrophic fire could have followed the disaster, if not for the vigilance of the BPL staff. Security was an overall issue for the island of Abaco as there was a serious breakdown of social structure due to the widespread ruin,” the report notes.
“In such instances, patrols and military should be assigned to secure the power plants and other key infrastructure to avoid the creation of new risks and to support the rapid resumption of service. Also, social services should be quickly deployed to avoid feelings of abandonment or helplessness that could lead to acts of vandalism.”