By SANCHESKA DORSETT
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Power and Light CEO Pamela Hill yesterday asked the public for “patience” as the utility provider begins “much needed” upgrades and “investments” in its system.
Speaking at a press conference at BPL headquarters yesterday, Ms Hill said she knows it has been “extremely frustrating” for customers having to endure frequent power outages and blackouts but she said during the next four to six months, customers can expect to see significant changes in the system that will lead to reliability, especially during the summer months.
Her comments came after New Providence residents suffered another island-wide power outage on Sunday following a weekend of electricity challenges. Residents complained of intermittent outages on Friday and Saturday.
Last Thursday, BPL blamed a “damaged underground cable” for power cuts on Tuesday and Wednesday and customers were warned at the time that they might experience “intermittent challenges with their power supply until operations have stabilised.”
Yesterday, Ms Hill said an “overloaded cable” at the Clifton Plant was the cause for the Sunday’s island-wide outage. She said BPL will focus most of its efforts on upgrades and repairs at the Clifton Pier Plant to ensure that Summer 2017 will be much better than this past summer - which was plagued with power outages.
Ms Hill remained tight lipped on how the cash strapped company will pay for the upgrades but she said it will cost around “10 per cent or so of the total value of investment we already have in our fleet”.
“Over the coming few months, you can expect to see additional investment in the system, so we will be strengthening those cables, underground cables, overheard lines, transmission and distribution systems and certainly our plant at Clifton, in both generation and training,” she said.
“What we are doing is focusing on what is going to be needed to stabilise the system this coming summer. It is not that spring or this winter doesn’t count but we need to use this lower load period, when there is not as much strain on the system to take advantage and ready ourselves for the summer. So what that means is, since we are four to six months from feeling the summertime load, that is the timeframe we are looking at to execute those major projects...Clifton is like an old car.
“You can get quite a lot of miles out of the car and you don’t have to get rid of the car just the older parts and that’s enough to keep it going. That is the approach we are taking at Clifton Pier. Clifton is a particularly important asset because that is where our lower cost generation resides. It doesn’t help us to continue to rely on Blue Hills, despite the fact that it is there and we love it and we give it a big hug every morning. We just want to bring Clifton up to par.”
Ms Hill explained that Sunday’s power outage was a “worst case scenario” and turned out to be “more challenging” than BPL originally thought.
“Around 2.45 pm is when we had our outage and it stemmed at Clifton Pier. We had an issue, essentially with one of the power plants and it led us to start to think about how we can very quickly prevent a major outage. So what we were looking to do when that issue flared up at Clifton was to make sure it wouldn’t cascade into major outage,” Ms Hill explained.
“So we took some immediate measures to do that but what ended up happening was exactly our worst fear, which was that upon taking those measures within four or five minutes one of our cables became overloaded and that in turn led to the outage occurring island-wide. So initially when we had the outage most everyone was still on, there were just a few customers that were off. Most unfortunately all of our customers did go off and that outage turned out to be more challenging than it appeared at the outset and it took a while longer than is the norm for us to return power.”
BPL’s failure to keep the lights on comes months after American company PowerSecure was contracted to take over management at the government-owned utility provider. The new management deal was touted by the government as being the answer to sub-par electricity service and high electricity bills.
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis recently said he has “no regrets” handing over the day-to-day operations of the former Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) to PowerSecure.
Mr Davis, who is also the minister of works, told The Tribune he thinks BPL is “meeting its mandate” and blamed the constant power outages on “aged machines”.