By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
BAHAMAS Power & Light (BPL) will invest $4-5 million in “hardening” its Abaco network prior to peak summer demand, in a bid to prevent outages that have frequently plagued the island.
Christina Alston, BPL’s chief operating officer, told Tribune Business that Abaco was one of four islands - including New Providence - that has been selected by the utility provider for its summer readiness improvement programme.
She added that improved power supply reliability was BPL’s “primary focus”, and the state-owned monopoly was focusing on short-term issues and areas it can address to improve customer service before demand peaks.
Mrs Alston explained that some projects requiring long “lead times” of 30 weeks or more, where specialist equipment and other parts needed to be sourced, had been deferred to 2019 as BPL concentrated on what it can improve now.
Speaking before BPL restored electricity supply to all of Abaco early yesterday morning, the BPL chief operating officer said the island and New Providence, as well as Exuma and Bimini, were the ones chosen for the summer programme.
Focusing on Abaco, Mrs Alston said BPL had already completed the annual overhaul and maintenance for its generation plant, and was now turning to transmission and distribution (T&D) upgrades.
She revealed that the utility was currently conducting a study on “sectionalising” its power lines, identifying the areas to focus on first for restoration in the aftermath of a hurricane. These will be the locations that can restore service to the greatest possible number of consumers.
Mrs Alston said BPL had also acquired two sets of regulators to boost system voltage, recognising “there are problems with voltage dropping” in its Abaco grid. And it was also undertaking a “thermal imaging” assessment of its transmission lines, “taking infra red shots” inside electricity poles to see if any needed repairing or upgrading.
“It gives us an opportunity to head off outages before they occur,” Mrs Alston told Tribune Business, adding that BPL was also concentrating on ‘vegetation management’ to cut back vines and other shrugs that can interfere with its substations and lines.
“It will probably end up costing anywhere from $4-$5 million,” she said of the Abaco upgrades. “We’re trying to harden the system, thinking of points where failure may occur and hardening them to protect them against outages.
“That’s our primary focus; improving reliability. That is a standard metric all utilities are measured against. One of my goals as chief operating officer is really around we want to improve our metrics in terms of reliability.”
Suggesting that BPL would become overwhelmed if it tried to address all areas that needed strengthening, Mrs Alston said it decided to focus on those islands where short-term improvements that boosted reliability could be made prior to summer 2018.
“We picked four islands where we felt we could have some success by implementing a summer readiness programme,” she told Tribune Business. However, “some improvements are beyond the scope of what can be accomplished” in the few remaining months, and will be deferred until 2019.
Mrs Alston said BPL’s summer readiness programme would also focus on areas “where we have problems”, with the Planning Department already charged with identifying these locations and uncovering what the problems were.