By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
BAHAMAS Power and Light CEO Whitney Heastie said the company sits “on the edge every day” and cannot guarantee there will be no further electricity cuts or when the nightmare will end.
According to the BPL chief yesterday, while BPL’s peak demand is 250 megawatts, there is only a total of 210mw available, creating a 40mw shortfall and no wiggle room.
Crippled by a decaying generation fleet, parts that can no longer be procured and manufacturers that have not responded to BPL’s requests for help, the situation is grim. Mr Heastie said this level of system failure now being experienced is one that could not have been anticipated.
Consumers have called for clear answers as to when the load shedding situation will improve and have questioned what the company will do to soften the blow of lives often disrupted by electricity cuts. However, Mr Heastie said BPL cannot afford any form of compensation, while apologising for the utility provider’s failure to give uninterrupted service.
BPL’s executives held a press conference and walk through of BPL’s Clifton Pier Plant yesterday. “We have three generators that are currently down at the Baillou Hills Power Plant. That’s a total of 60mw and so we do need two of those three generators to be returned to service as I stated we anticipate getting two of them back that will close the shortfall,” Mr Heastie said when The Tribune asked for a timeline for an end to load shedding. “The third one is a little less likely to return because of the failure that that generator has seen.
“The challenge we have is with an aging fleet. Last night over the course of the night we would have had four additional units gone down. There is no guarantee to sit here and guarantee that when those three units go back that another two won’t go down.
“So as long as we are in this situation where we have no wiggle room, no spare capacity, we are sitting on the edge everyday. We cannot guarantee that there will not be any load shedding.”
He continued: “BPL as a power utility is like every other power utility in the world. It’s not like the other utilities that provide service. We bill only what we sell. If the metre is not turning obviously we do not bill. There is pay per use and so we only charge for what is consumed by consumers.
“We do understand that there is an inconvenience factor. We are all experiencing that and what we say is yes we do understand that but let’s be clear BPL is in the hole every month. I think people need to understand that. Let me give you the number so we understand where we are and I think what people have been asking BPL to do is to forgive payment on bills. Our monthly expenditures exceed $40m every month. Thirty million dollars on average is fuel.
“That goes to Shell North America. That’s based on the price of fuel. That’s nobody in The Bahamas getting that money, that goes to Shell North America. Over $8m is spent on paying and running the business everyday. Inclusive of that would be the vendors we are contracted to provide service with. Another $2m is provided for interest on loans.”
“There is no room for BPL to not insist on its customers to pay,” he also said. “The lack of funds in BPL is how we got to where we are today.”
Mr Heastie said the change of two BPL boards did not have any affect on the historic issues that plague the power provider.
He said the company was aware that consumers have now run out of patience. “Our peak demand is 250mw. We have a total of 210mw available today, which includes the following: 105mw in Aggreko rental capacity, 35mw at Clifton Pier, and 70mw from Blue Hills.
“This equates to 210mw or 40mw short of what is required, hence the load shedding. We are working feverishly on returning two generators at Blue Hill Power Station that will make up this 40mw difference. However, we cannot guarantee that other units will not fail and return us to load shedding as we have no excess capacity.
“As we get deeper into the fall, the demand will drop off as will the need for load shedding.
It is important to understand that BPL employees have been extremely supportive and working diligently during this entire ordeal. It would have been equally appreciated if the same level of support was received from engine manufacturers who have not been so responsive to our repeated requests for help.
“We are extremely aware that our consumers’ patience has long run out and that confidence in what we are telling you is low. But it is the truth.
It is an ugly truth that the inheritors of the truth must tell and that no amount of editorials, political bombast, and armchair quarterbacking can change.
“While our existing generation fleet has been in decay, load in New Providence has consistently grown with many new mega complexes. We are building a new 132mw plant, as seen today, but regretfully the acceleration of the decay has created a gap and resulted in the circumstances we are all experiencing,” Mr Heastie said. He added there would be no attempt to blame anyone for the current state of affairs.
For his part BPL Chairman Donovan Moxey apologised but pointed to several things that contributed to the issues. He said: “The board of directors of Bahamas Power and Light is cognizant of the challenges faced by Bahamians due to prolonged load shedding and lingering problems with power generation. We know the problems it is causing for homes, and for businesses, for industry, and for families. I want to again apologise to our customers and the Bahamian people for not providing the level of service that should be expected from a national electrical utility. We intend to do all we can as quickly as possible to resolve the issues that inhibit our ability to provide the quality of service all of our customers deserve.
“While Mr Heastie focused on generation and other critical operational issues, a different perspective on the challenges facing BPL is that as a company, we have been disadvantaged by decades of nonalignment of strategic vision for the company and the needs of our growing customer base.
“As more housing developments were being constructed, more resorts and other foreign direct investments were courted and constructed, as the economy and the population has continued to grow, there should have been concurrent investments in increasing generation capacity to sufficient levels that would ensure the company’s ability to meet growing demand and sufficient headroom to allow for redundancy. That nonalignment is equally at play in our challenges, and perhaps more significant than the current shortfall in generation, in our view.
“The facts are plain: decisions that would have obviated the problems we face today were not made, and so we are here, challenged to fix these problems once and for all. But as a board, we are committed to doing exactly that, and not making excuses or placing blame,” Mr Moxey said.