By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) will reach out to Shell to bridge any near-term “shortfall” in Nassau’s power needs due to the recent Clifton Pier fires, it was revealed yesterday.
Whitney Heastie, BPL’s chief executive, told Tribune Business that the utility will seek help from its long-term generation partner should its two “largest units” be permanently knocked out by the series of blazes that erupted two weekends ago.
He revealed that assessment teams have still been unable to enter the “Station C” building to determine the extent of the damage due to ongoing safety concerns, meaning that it was unable to discuss its potential needs with Shell North America.
Mr Heastie, emphasising that BPL did “not want to ask for more than we need” and incur unnecessary costs, reiterated that New Providence’s energy demand had fallen since the summer peak.
Reassuring Bahamian households and businesses that the electricity monopoly “should be fine as long as current generation units perform as they have been”, Mr Heastie said BPL’s capacity will receive a further 50 megawatt (MW) boost when two engines - currently undergoing maintenance - return to service by October.
He added that BPL was more concerned about the medium-term fall-out from the fires, namely whether it will have sufficient generation to meet Nassau’s demands in summer 2019 and if its scheduled winter maintenance schedule can proceed as planned.
Asked how BPL planned to cope with the potential loss of 63 MW in generation capacity, Mr Heastie replied: “We’re relying on our partner, Shell, to come to us and make recommendations as to what they’re planning to do to help in the short-term. They would be the ones providing, as the selected preferred bidder, the generation assets for any shortfall we may have. That is the plan.
“Coming off peak, power needs are not as great, but we do need to make sure we have the power to get us through next year..... And the question is, getting into the winter overhaul, how many generation [units] can we take out. That becomes more of an issue than anything else that we will have to look at closely and see how we do that.”
Mr Heastie, though, said BPL is unable to discuss its potential short-term generation needs with Shell North America, which has been selected as the preferred bidder to construct, own and operate a new, multi-fuel 270 MW power plant in the Clifton Pier area that will serve New Providence from 2021 onwards.
He explained that, more than a week since the last fire, BPL assessment teams are still unable to enter the fire-ravaged ‘Station C’ building at Clifton Pier because of ongoing safety concerns and a belief the floor has been “compromised”.
“The evaluation is still being done on the state of generation assets at ‘Station C’,” Mr Heastie told Tribune Business. “We’ve been waiting to get inside that building. With all the water and foam sprayed into that building, we can’t get in there.
“There’s also no power to the building, and we’re getting some lights in there so someone can go in and do an assessment. Safety is paramount, and we can’t go in much beyond the door because the floor may have been compromised from the fire.
“We’re trying to determine what the generation shortfall is, and until we make a determination on the assets in ‘Station C’ we won’t know what that is.”
The BPL chief executive revealed there was a 30-foot drop below the floor into ‘Station C’s’ basement, with the inability to access the building and get up close to its two 31.5 MW engines preventing the utility from working out the cost of any repairs/replacements.
“They are the two largest generating units in the company,” Mr Heastie said. “Just looking at the one directly impacted by the fire, it seems OK, but anything else around it.... Until we can get in the building we won’t know the extent of the damage. We have challenges with making it safe. Until it is safe, we’re not able to do that.
“We don’t want to ask for more than we need [from Shell] as that is a cost we will have to pay. We don’t want to go ahead and ask for assets that are unnecessary. We go into ‘Station C’ and the generator not impacted directly by the fire may be fine. That there is close to another 31 MW available to us. Rather than being out two units, it may be one.”
He continued: “Right now we’re meeting the island’s demand with the generation assets we do have. We’re coming down off the summer peak. As we move away from summer into the fall and winter, there is less need for generation.
“As we go into March, April, May and come back up again, we need to make sure we have a solid plan to meet next year’s summer peak. We do have excess capacity today. And we just brought back a unit that was out on major maintenance overhaul. That came back on Friday.
“We have another coming back at Clifton Pier in October. We do have these assets coming back to us into service, so that will put us in better shape.” Mr Heastie said the unit returned to service on Friday can generate 24 MW, and the other returning in October some 26 MW, making for a total 50 MW - some 13 MW less than the combined fire-impacted engines.
He added that the structure of the ‘Station C’ building at Clifton Pier appeared unaffected by the fire, and reassured BPL’s New Providence customers: “As long as the assets we have currently online continue to perform as they have been performing we should be fine.”