By ADRIAN GIBSON
OFTEN I feel like we have returned to the dark ages – literally with BEC – as our government continuously fails to exercise a duty of care for the citizens of this country.
Consecutive governments have fallen down with the Bahamas Electricity Corporation and stabilising our electricity generation.
How is it that BEC continues to suffer widespread engine shutdowns for days on end, inconveniencing citizens while at the same time shamelessly placing advertisements in the newspaper threatening to disconnect people for non-payment? We are so frequently experiencing massive power cuts and living in a state of near perpetual darkness and unbearable heat that I wonder how BEC could ask for monies for a service that is intermittent at best.
Unlike some other issues, the island-wide power cuts affect nearly every resident of New Providence. In recent days, on the drive home, I have noted car smashes likely due to non-functioning traffic lights (no electricity coupled with hot-headed drivers); read a sad story about three expensive goldfish that died in their bowl due to the outages and the emotional impact it must have had on the parent to explain this mess – and the death of the fish – to young children; heard of large businesses such as Kelly’s and smaller operations all having to close down and send all their employees home due to their generators not kicking in after BEC’s outage or due to the fact that they simply don’t have – nor can they afford – a generator.
When businesses are forced to shut down, people must be sent home and a day is lost, people cannot get paid and thereby, in many instances, cannot pay their mortgages, car notes and BEC bills, etc. A few weeks ago, even Atlantis’ generators didn’t kick it and that mammoth hotel operation was left egg-faced because of BEC.
Generally, as Bahamians, we do seem to be apathetic about this entire affair. We excuse BEC too much and, though we raise hell and grumble among ourselves for a day or two, once the lights are back on or the air conditioning is “pumping”, we forget about the inadequacies until the next blackout (which, at this rate, would likely be a week or so later). I could hear some of our fellow countrymen accepting this third world version of power generation, with utterances such as “well, they are better than they used to be”.
But we live in the 21st century and, as a country that likes to view itself as the jewel of the Atlantic and as a top tourist destination, we do not have a secure energy source.
Are we not tired of driving around in our cars when the power goes off, trying to find something to eat, trying to stay cool in the air conditioning?
Is it true that BEC currently operates five different types of engines, purchased from different companies, different brands? What sense does that make? Would it not have been more economical to purchase one brand of generators and therefore be able to purchase parts in bulk, parts that could fit them all?
So, I have heard the guarantees that the IAAF World Relays event this weekend will go off smoothly, with uninterrupted electrical power, even if that means shutting down the electricity source to the masses and directing it to the stadium. On the one hand, one could imagine the chairman speaking in jest, merely emphasising that he would make sure that the country doesn’t suffer any embarrassment before the international community.
But, is it really that bad? Should Bahamians have to enter a dark, hot house because BEC is so incapable of keeping the lights on that whatever power is left should be directed towards the stadium for the visiting athletes and officials? Is the thought that these persons will be impressed by our keeping the electricity on at the stadium as opposed to elsewhere when, for the most part, these persons are coming from countries where stable electricity is the norm and nothing worthy of being impressed by?
A year ago, the government announced that BEC would be privatised. But, then what happened?
It was initially proposed that BEC would be divided into a transmission and distribution entity and one that generates electricity. Then that was changed and they decided to sell it entirely. And then that was changed and they have now decided not to sell BEC but instead to bring in a management company.
So, now that the Request For Proposals has closed, what were the recommendations that were purportedly made by KPMG? We - the taxpayers - are still waiting to hear more.
BEC is hardly fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly, continuously leaving a large carbon footprint and, in addition to facing financial woes, persistently incurring maintenance issues.
When will the 27 BEC power plants be revamped to facilitate the incorporation of alternative energy? Moving forward, what will be the corporation’s fuel hedging strategies?
There has been nothing of significance said relative to a national energy policy. On New Providence, residential energy self-generation (RESG) participants still can only supply a maximum five kilowatts to the BEC grid. This amount is further restricted on the Family Islands. Ken Dorsett, the Minister for the Environment, admitted that there was no initiative available to compensate Bahamians for energy they placed into the BEC grid.
As it stands, the only permitted technologies are wind turbines or solar photovoltaic systems and BEC can limit the number of participants. Even more notably, to facilitate all this, the Electricity Act would have to be amended and though Dorsett promised it would happen “in short order” it has yet to happen. When it came to commercial/business renewable energy systems interconnecting and feeding excess power into the BEC grid, Dorsett said the only permitted participants are public/government buildings and approved manufacturers under the Industries Encouragement Act.
So, why are we limiting our renewable energy options to wind and solar power? There is no move to incentivise Bahamians to conserve energy.
If Renew Bahamas is to become an independent power producer selling power to BEC, where is the legislation concerning it? Who would have oversight, why is there no URCA-like entity in place? What is the production standard?
The government must swiftly develop an energy policy and offer incentives and support in proposing and driving renewable energy legislation. Recently, because of high freight rates and the demand for corn, wheat and sugar cane for ethanol products, food prices have also risen.
According to Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia: “Renewable energy effectively uses natural resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat, which are naturally replenished. Renewable energy technologies range from solar power, wind power, hydroelectricity/micro hydro, biomass and biofuels for transportation.”
Due to the absence of geysers or large agricultural enterprise, geothermal power or even the production of ethanol fuel would not be feasible in the Bahamas. According to Wikipedia, Brazil has the world’s largest renewable energy programme, deriving ethanol from sugar cane which provides 18 per cent of that nation’s automotive fuel. Because of an abundance of sunshine, wind and water, we can explore renewable energy technologies such as solar power, wind power and wave energy.
A few years ago, Jerome Elliott, then president of the Bahamas Society of Engineers and head of the government’s Renewable Energy Committee said: “It’s important for us to consider renewable energy options because as most of us are aware, hydrocarbon or oil-based energy is finite. It’s not going to last forever.”
Mr Elliott also noted that the Bahamas inevitably will have to switch to alternative energy, with the most practicable being wind, wave and solar energy.
Locally, there are offshore sites with strong, continuous winds that would be fitting locations for wind turbines to be set-up. Additionally, the strong currents flowing throughout the archipelago are ideal for power derived from waves/tides.
Our sub-tropical climate, with the sun as an omnipresent feature, is a suitable locale for solar power systems on which we are currently failing to capitalise. Japan is the world’s leader in the solar energy industry, with Kenya holding the record for the “world’s highest solar ownership rate with roughly 30,000 small (20-100 watt) solar power systems sold per year” says Wikipedia.
In Eleuthera, the Island School’s innovative approach has resulted in that institution being able to convert used cooking oil – donated by cruise ships – to fuel and thereby produce their own electricity. There are some Family Islanders who have been experimenting with solar power for several years.
Moreover, while some may object, consideration should be given to the feasibility of installing a mini-nuclear reactor to provide cheap energy. Of late, the “septic tank-sized” nuclear reactor has been hailed internationally as a novel means of generating power in an age where countries are becoming increasingly concerned about moving away from dependence on oil. According to its developers, the septic tank-sized power module will likely be buried in the ground and run by operators from the local utility company. It has been said that this form of alternative energy is around five to 10 times cheaper to produce than solar or wind power.
Furthermore, waste-to-energy initiatives are considered as one of the country’s greatest opportunities for harnessing renewable energy. The waste-to-energy method purportedly creates energy in the form of heat or electricity from a waste source.
Undoubtedly, the production of energy from waste would also reduce the amount of waste treated in the dump. So, what is the situation with Renew Bahamas? We need details.
What happened to the drafts for a national energy policy that were submitted by the National Energy Policy Committee and was purportedly being reviewed by the government? What happened to the finalisation of an agreement with a renewable energy provider that former State Minister of the Environment, Phenton Neymour, promised would be completed by the end of 2009?
What about the floating power plants we hear of? Perhaps that’s a good short term solution.
We need a strategic plan for BEC. I ask the PLP, the FNM and the DNA, who are all paying lip service: “Where is the manifesto for BEC and its turnaround?”
BEC is in debt to the tune of $450m, has problems with its unions, aging engines and power plants that continue to burn fossil fuels.
BEC is persistently operating on the margins and only one engine needs to go down to show just how much. Baha Mar is not fully on-stream yet, so what will be the case when that mega resort property becomes filled with people?
I understand the anger and frustration with BEC and the patched-up system now in place. I feel it too. But I want to hear of the solutions to the BEC fiasco, I want to hear the political parties’ plans as to how BEC would become efficient if we entrusted our country to them.
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