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‘New Bec’S’ Solar Out Island Focus

By NATARIO McKENZIE

Tribune Business Reporter

nmckenzie@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas Electricity Corporation’s (BEC) new manager yesterday promised that solar energy would be integrated into its generation solutions, with the Family Islands likely to prove especially fertile ground.

Ronnie Brannen, PowerSecure’s president of utility and infrastructure, said that while the Family Islands present a unique challenge for BEC’s new operating subsidiary, Bahamas Power & Light (BPL), its existing expertise in renewables and

available Crown Land created the potential for renewable energy installation.

   Speaking at the signing of a five-year management services agreement with the Government, Mr Brannen said yesterday that increasing the supply reliability, lowering energy costs and increasing customer satisfaction were PowerSecure’s immediate focus.  

    “We have laid out a plan to the Board. We were asked to submit a 30-day plan, a 60-day plan and a 90-day plan,” he explained.

“We did it in phases. The business plan is in phases. In the first 30 days we have to look at the fundamentals that are going to drive our business, and one is high reliability.

“We have to increase reliability. We have to lower cost and we have to increase customer satisfaction. Anything we do will be around those three components. We must get to know the staff better, meet the unions and understand their needs, and they must understand that we are here to work with them and support them,” Mr Brannen said.

“They know what they are doing; we just need to understand how to partner with them and make them feel good about the accomplishments they have made, and we need to improve on that relationship.”

Few specific details on PowerSecure’s plans for BPL were provided at yesterday’s agreement signing, although Jeff Wallace was named as the company’s new chief executive.

Mr Wallace has more than 35 years experience in the energy industry, and has spent the past 10 as vice-president of fuel procurement for the US-based Southern Company, where he has been responsible for managing $7 billion in fuel procurement, planning and delivery programmes for 85 power plants.

Kevin Basden, now BEC’s former general manager, has taken the post of consultant/adviser to the BPL Board and its executive management team.

And Deepak Bhatnagar, who headed the Government’s energy reform task force, has been appointed to BPL as an executive director.

His role, according to a BPL statement, will be to monitor the energy monopoly’s activities and ensure that PowerSecure delivers on its business plan,

Neither the Government nor PowerSecure would confirm the likelihood of employee lay-offs at BPL, although these are almost certain, and anticipated by the two unions representing workers.

Any redundancies are, in the first instance, likely to be achieved via voluntary separation packages, as were used at the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) in the wake of its 2011 privatisation.

When asked whether PowerSecure was considering reducing the number of employees at BEC, Mr Brannen replied: “What we are doing there is remaining extremely open-minded.

“At this point in the business, there could potentially be a reduction in the workforce. If there is, and I say that strongly, if, we would look at a voluntary type program where people who worked here and have long tenures would be offered an opportunity to volunteer if that is the case, but it is very preliminary. We don’t know that yet.”

    Mr Brannen said BPL would look to explore the best way to procure fuel. “We have to look at the cost of fuel and the best way to procure it,” he added.

“Fuel prices are very low at the moment. We need to take advantage of that here.”

    Mr Brannen said that while the Family Islands provide a unique challenge for BPL, there was an opportunity for renewables to be incorporated into the energy generation mix.

“The cost of solar continues to come down at a very rapid rate. We have a lot of expertise with solar; we build solar farms,” Mr Brannen said.

“The Government does have Crown Land on some of the islands you can take advantage of, which is a huge value when you talk about land as part of the equation.

“Solar prices are really coming down. We are very encouraged by it, especially when you look at the price to generate on the Family Islands. Solar is a part of the mix.”

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