By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) would be “well advised to consider” if Clifton Pier is suitable for both its current and proposed new power plants, the Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive urged yesterday.
Edison Sumner told Tribune Business that the three weekend fires, which BPL union leaders alleged may have caused up to $150m in damages, had merely reinforced the Chamber’s concerns about the area’s continued use as the location for New Providence’s main power plant.
Pointing to the significant environmental remediation and clean-up work required to deal with past oil spillages, Mr Sumner said the Chamber had expressed its concerns over Clifton Pier as part of a wider assessment of the recent bid process for Nassau’s new generation facility.
“We were concerned before when we got the information through the request for proposal (RFP) issued recently that there was a plan to build another facility on the Clifton site,” he told this newspaper yesterday.
“We thought if that was the case, that should be reconsidered, because for a long time we’ve known of some serious environmental issues at Clifton, and the likely efforts to remediate and ensure the site is suitable for the new plant and current one that sits there now.”
Mr Sumner continued: “I’m hoping that now we’ve had these two [three] unfortunate incidents at the power station it would cause a reconsideration of the Clifton site and whether to build there, and to look at alternative plans and sites to build the new plant elsewhere or have that current site fully remediated.
“Whatever needs to be done should be done post-haste to avoid these kinds of incident again. It would be something they would be well advised to consider: Whether to put more resources into that site or look at alternative locations and facilities for the new plant.”
The Minnis cabinet in April selected Shell North America as the preferred bidder to build, own and operate a new, 270 Mega Watt (MW) multi-fuel power plant that will supply the majority of New Providence’s energy needs from 2021 onwards.
The plant, together with a liquefied natural gas (LNG) and bunkering facility, is to be constructed in the same Clifton Pier area as the BPL plant that repeatedly went up in flames over the weekend, resulting in a week-long “load shedding” and power outages spread across the island as a result of lost generation capacity.
BPL is still tying down the terms of its commercial agreements with Shell, details of which were caught up in the recent Boardroom battle that resulted in all directors on the former Board resigning or being removed.
The Chamber, in a June 28, 2018, letter to ex-BPL chairman, Darnell Osborne, made clear its concerns about the continued use of Clifton Pier as a power plant location under Shell. The document, signed by Mr Sumner and Debbie Deal, head of the Chamber’s energy and environment committed, expressed concerns that bidders were not allowed to conduct site visits - as promised by the tender document - despite the “significant environmental issues that have persisted at the current energy plant facilities at Clifton Pier”.
“The selection of Clifton Pier as the site for new power generation and regasification facilities raises significant concerns given the perennial environmental issues experienced at that site,” the Chamber duo wrote.
“It is reasonable to expect that such environmental issues are fully resolved prior to utilisation of that site, and the BCCEC asks that BPL confirm whether or not such resolution is a pre-condition of the site utilisation.”
Mr Sumner yesterday said the prospect of power outages, “especially at this time of year”, as a result of the weekend fires was “always a concern” to the Bahamian private sector - especially those businesses that lack their own generators.
He added that Bahamian businesses and residents “haven’t seen much, unfortunately” of promised improvements in BPL’s energy costs and supply reliability, despite “every management team and Board that goes into BPL going in with high promises to turn things around”.
BPL’s systems were likely now “more compromised” than ever as a result of the blazes, and Mr Sumner said: “The fact they’ve had three fires in four days should be of great concern, not only to consumers but BPL and their staff. It’s not just about customers and the reliability of energy; we must be concerned for the safety of workers.
“One of the things we would like to see promoted more, and something the Chamber has been advocating for, is to see a greater push to renewable energy sources where business and residential customers take advantage of putting these sources on homes and businesses.”