By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The DNA’s ex-leader yesterday said Bahamas Power & Light’s (BPL) inability to provide reliable power had “put us back into third world status”, and blasted: “It’s a disaster for the economy.”
Branville McCartney, pictured, speaking to Tribune Business from Florida, where he said the monthly energy bill for a four-storey home was just $200, said BPL’s failure to perform its most basic functions had also undermined Bahamians’ “way of life”.
“Terrible, it’s a disaster,” he charged of BPL’s current woes. “It’s a disaster for our economy. It’s a disaster for our way of living, and it’s putting us back into third world status.
“In relation to our economy, persons are losing as a result of not being able to do business, there’s equipment being damaged on a constant basis, not only for local businesses but our tourism industry as well. Even some hotels are having some challenges despite having generators, since these break down as well.”
Mr McCartney continued: “In terms of our enjoyment and way of life, that has been taken away from us and, quite frankly, BPL can’t give us any answers to when there will be some type of relief.
“People in these old people’s homes are suffering beyond comprehension, and it has an effect internationally for us because complaints are being levied by the tourist sector. It is more of a deterrent to the international investor, and to those persons in The Bahamas looking to get into business or expand their business.
“If persons are investing, one essential element for doing business is the reliable supply of electricity. We’ve always had that complaint, not just from international investors but locally, about the cost of electricity but this, more than the cost, is something we cannot afford.”
The former DNA leader, who sat in the last Ingraham administration’s Cabinet for several years, blamed BPL’s generation crisis on “years of neglect” by successive administrations, including the current Minnis-led government.
Whitney Heastie, BPL’s chief executive, admitted on Sunday that the utility had given itself a wafer-thin margin to meet New Providence’s 250 MW peak summer demand with only 270-280 MW of generation available.
While he argued that the extent of the failure at the Blue Hills power plant, which resulted in three generation units being lost simultaneously, could not have been predicted, Mr Heastie also admitted that some of BPL’s aged infrastructure is 60 years-old - a factor that suggested regular maintenance/repairs would be required.
Mr Heastie confessed that BPL knew it was “walking a tightrope” for summer 2019, which many observers will interpret as an admission that BPL failed to adequately plan for summer demand and all possible scenarios.
With the loss of 70 MW in generation capacity at Blue Hills, the BPL chief executive admitted that the utility only currently has 210 MW of generation capacity to meet 250 MW peak demand in the Bahamian capital.
He also admitted that BPL’s “decaying” generation fleet contains equipment more than 60 years old where parts cannot be procured and have to be obtained exclusively from manufacturers - thereby making engine breakdowns and off-line maintenance a near 100 percent certainty.
The poor state of BPL’s generation fleet is highlighted by the fact some 37.5 percent of the 280 MW summer generation capacity is comprised of rental units from Aggreko, with Mr Heastie admitting the energy monopoly is “on the edge, on the cliff” virtually every day.
Immediate solutions were in present little supply from the Prime Minister’s Office, which in a statement last night could only point to nine MW in additional rental generation from Aggreko, coupled with the arrival of a specialist six-man team from Philadelphia to help restore BPL’s broken down engines, as signs of progress prior to the installation of the utility’s 132 MW from Wartsila.
Mr McCartney, for his part, queried whether the possibility of a cable link-up with Florida, so BPL could receive power from Florida Power & Light (FPL), was feasible in the short-term - as had been mulled some years ago.
He also urged Bahamians to do better in holding the Government to account for BPL’s woes, rather than simply just vote it out at the next general election, given that the Opposition party was equally responsible for the problems.
“I blame it on the Bahamian people,” Mr McCartney told Tribune Business. “The Bahamian people will complain, complain, complain, but at the end of the day what will they do? They will say this present administration is doing bad, so vote it out and go back to the other party, the PLP, which is partly to blame for this foolishness as well.
“Unfortunately the problems they’re having now did not happen overnight. This particular administration was dealt a bad hand in that regard, but it was in power before. The Bahamian people need to hold their feet to the fire. They need to insist, especially when it comes down to the supply of electricity, that they do what is in the best interests of the country.”