By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
BAHAMAS Power & Light (BPL) executives yesterday brushed off questions about their “game plan” as they moved to “fast track” the $95m installation of 132 megawatts (MW) in new power generation.
The state-owned utility confirmed it had contracted Wärtsilä to supply and install seven new engines in an unused section of its Clifton Pier power plant in a bid to reduce energy costs, eliminate load shedding and blackouts, and boost supply security by ultimately ending reliance on rental generation.
The move, though, was immediately challenged by Bahamas Electrical Workers Union (BEWU) president, Paul Maynard, who yesterday argued that there was local expertise available to install the Wartsila engines.
He told Tribune Business: “We have the expertise here that can help them put the engines together. If we’re paying for the engines they can’t tell us what we can and can’t do. Bahamians have to be able to benefit. This isn’t a freebie; we’re paying $95m that BEC can’t afford.
“They haven’t even come to the unions and said what is the game plan. Who is going to operate these engines? You don’t have anyone trained to operate the engines and fix them. I’m, talking about the workers at BPL. What are they saying? Over time something goes wrong, they have to bring these people in to fix these engines, paying them more money on top of the $95m we are already paying. That’s foolishness.”
Edmund Philips, Wärtsilä’s business development manager, yesterday said the engines are manufactured in Italy and expected to be shipped at the end of the month. “They will take two months to arrive. Installation will take about four months,” he said.
Mr Philips said that while 13-15 months is the typical timeframe for such an installation, the Clifton project has been fast-tracked to nine months. “All works will be managed by Wärtsilä and we will use local staff where applicable. We will always seek local labour first,” he added. “If we can’t find local help we will bring in international help with the requisite experience to install the engines.”
Mr Philips added that Wärtsilä has already begun interviewing for local professionals with the necessary skill sets. “That process has started. We have interviewed many local engineering companies. We have selected local civil engineering companies to do the civil works, but there is just no electro-mechanical skill set on the island,” he added.
BPL’s chief executive, Whitney Heastie, said: “We have to keep in mind that four-strike engines are completely different from two-stroke engines. We are going to have to make sure we fully rely on the experts to do what they do best. We do not have anyone in BPL today that would understand Wärtsilä four-stroke engines. We are relying on Wärtsilä to ensure that whatever they do here matches what they do around the world.”
Mr Heastie said BPL had contracted Wärtsilä to install a 132 MW of power generation at Clifton Pier. “The total cost is approximately $95m, and will be located in the existing station A building at Clifton Pier, which has recently been stripped of the four 1980 vintage two-stroke engines and auxiliary equipment that has been out of service since 2016,” he said.
“Currently several engineering works and upgrades are being completed so that Station A can accommodate the new seven high efficiency Wärtsilä engines. The new plant will be tri-fuel, capable of using heavy fuel oil, diesel, and liquefied natural gas when it becomes locally available.
“This flexibility of the new plant is an important step to ensure an energy and price security for The Bahamas. When this project is completed the customer will see a substantial improvement in the power generation reliability in New Providence and a lower fuel charge on their monthly billing. The lower fuel charge will result from both the use of more efficient generation along with the ability to burn lower priced fuel.”
Mr Heastie said the new generating assets will allow BPL to “close the chapter” on rental generation in New Providence, which began in 2011. “Installation will be completed by the end of summer 2019,” he added.
“With this partnership BPL is confirming its commitment to install additional generating capacity as quickly as possibly in order to meet demand and, at the same time, replace existing low efficiency generating assets. We are confident that as a technology leader in energy solutions, and as an experienced engineering procurement and construction contractor, Wärtsilä will meet our expectations for this project.”
Mr Heastie said that Shell North America, with which BPL has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a multi-fuel power plant for New Providence by 2022, was “integrally involved” in the process to select Wärtsilä .
“They went out and did the tendering for us. They were the ones who recommended Wärtsilä. They have been along with us the entire way of the process,” he added. Mr Heastie further explained that the 132 MW is a part of the 220 MW that will be incorporated into Shell’s plant, and said: “There is still 90 MW that Shell committed to build.”
Mr Heastie said BPL has been paying under $2m a month for rental generation units, adding that consumers have been paying significant sums on their energy bills as a result of these rental units.