By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
BEC’s energy crisis is “now at nine out of 10”, with a former minister responsible for the Corporation telling Tribune Business the generator purchases announced last week would do little to ease New Providence’s woes.
Phenton Neymour, former minister of state for the environment, said the five-six electricity generation units set to be purchased by BEC were too small to be properly integrated into the Corporation’s New Providence infrastructure.
BEC’s current chairman, Leslie Miller, announced last week that the $6 million worth of generation units could each generate 2.5 Mega Watts (MW) of power.
But Mr Neymour described this generation capacity as “a drop in the bucket”, pointing out that 2.5 MW was equivalent to just 1 per cent of New Providence peak demand levels.
He argued that the generators BEC was purchasing were more suited for small Family Islands, where they were admittedly needed, but Mr Neymour said Mr Miller was being disingenuous by implying the new units were destined for New Providence and would help solve its woes.
The former minister added that BEC and the Bahamas’ energy sector were now “in deep trouble”, something he blamed on the current government and Corporation Board for failing to follow through on plans left behind by the former Ingraham administration.
“If I were the Minister, I would put the crisis now at nine out of 10,” Mr Neymour told Tribune Business. “The reason I am saying that is because of my experience, and what I have seen as a failure to act at BEC.
“We know we are in deep trouble. The inactivity of the Government, the failure to take action, their cancellation of the agreements that were in place for the rental units that were supplying the power.
“It’s not only the inactivity, but their [the Government’s] failure to manage BEC’s financial resources, and their dragging of their feet on the privatisation of BEC,” the former minister added.
“At the rate we are going, Baha Mar will have to generate their own energy, and so will Atlantis.”
With the late Spring 2015 opening of the $3.5 billion Baha Mar project set to further stretch BEC’s already strained capacity on New Providence, Mr Neymour said the Corporation had no choice but to lease or rent new generation units if it was to avoid island-wide load shedding.
“The timeframe to install generation is too long to meet the demand for next year,” he told Tribune Business, explaining that it typically took 18-20 months from ordering a new electricity generation unit to start producing power.
“We ran out of time from last year,” Mr Neymour said. “It is on that basis that I predicted we would have blackouts.”
He blamed BEC’s current New Providence generation crisis, in part, on the Christie administration’s decision to cancel plans to acquire a new 18 MW unit for the Clifton Pier power plant. The location for the unit, which would have taken 14 months to install, had already been determined by the former administration.
“We were fully aware of the demands of Baha Mar, and aware of the needs for 2014,” Mr Neymour said of the former Ingraham administration. “We were taking action to deal with this.
“The current government decided to ignore those action items we began, and did nothing. That is what happened, and as a result of it we have the highest electricity rates ever in the country with the worst service we’ve ever seen.”
Mr Neymour also criticised Mr Miller for hypocrisy, arguing that the latter had criticised himself and others for renting generation capacity when the FNM was in office, only to turn round days later and indicate BEC would follow the same course under the Christie administration.
Acknowledging that there was a difference between purchasing and renting, Mr Neymour said it appeared BEC was making permanent purchases of generation capacity that the Corporation only used to rent for four-five months per year to meet summer peak load demand.
Arguing that BEC’s impending purchases were not appropriate for New Providence, the former minister told Tribune Business: “The smallest generator BEC has in its facilities in Nassau today is 10 MW.
“The generators he [Mr Miller] is now acquiring are of no use to New Providence. They are not of the size to be integrated into the system. The generators they are purchasing are those used in smaller Family Islands.
“He does not indicate where they are to be based, which only gives the impression Mr Miller is being disingenuous, indicating they are for New Providence when they are for the Family Islands.”
Mr Neymour agreed, though, that the Family Islands needed relief just as much as New Providence. He said he was in Black Point recently when it experienced load shedding, while the Bahamas Telecommunications Company’s (BTC) chief executive had complained of power challenges in Staniel Cay.
“The average price per generator to meet New Providence’s needs is between $1-$1.3 million per MW. That is the rule of thumb,” Mr Neymour told Tribune Business.
“We now have a situation where they are purchasing 2.5 MW generators when we have a 225 MW demand peak. The generators he is purchasing represent only 1 per cent of what BEC’s demand is on New Providence. They do not fit in with New Providence’s generation plant because they are too small.”