By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
BAHAMAS Electrical Workers Union president Paul Maynard yesterday threatened “dark days are ahead” as he waged war against Bahamas Power & Light and Wärtsilä, the newly contracted firm slated to build a $95m electricity plant this year.
“It will be a cold day in hell, before I, Paul Maynard, allow Wärtsilä to come on a plant that the Bahamian people is paying $95m for and send my staff home,” the union chief told The Tribune yesterday in a harsh rebuke of BPL and the Finnish technology group.
This comes after BPL CEO Whitney Heastie announced a contract had been signed between the electricity provider and Wärtsilä. The firm will build a 132-megawatt plant, powered by seven high efficiency engines at Clifton Pier. They plan to finish installation by the end of this summer.
Wärtsilä Business Development Manager Edmund Phillips stressed on Monday that the company would search locally for the skills needed to construct the plant.
However, both he and Mr Heastie agreed that there was no one at BPL presently skilled in electro-mechanical engineering. They argue that the Wärtsilä engines are different from anything presently at BPL.
The assertion angered Mr Maynard and triggered a chilling threat to consumers who dread entering the hot summer months, as load shedding and blackouts are common.
“My main concern is Phillips saying Wärtsilä gonna run this plant,” Mr Maynard said yesterday.
“In which country they gonna run a plant? Not in this country and not as long as I’m union president, you gotta be crazy. That ain’t happening
“Let me tell you something, it will be a cold day in hell before Paul Maynard allows Wärtsilä to come in here on a plant we pay $95m for and run it, sending the staff that I represent home.
“When you take people good paying jobs that they have mortgages attached to, school fees and other things attached to that they have their good life going and give it to foreigners in a plant that we pay for, it will be war.
“Capital W, capital A, capital R - war. You will see a lot of dark days in this country because there ain’t no way.”
When his attention was drawn to officials contending there was no electro-mechanical engineer at BPL, Mr Maynard continued: “Don’t get mix up. I don’t want to hear no bull. How long did it take them to learn it? So what’s with these new engines?”
He was then told that officials said the new engines are four stroke; more complicated than the existing two stroke equipment.
Mr Maynard responded: “I don’t give a if they nine strokes, our people can’t learn? We got dummies in this country?
“Bahamians are people who can go to all kinds of university and be the top of their classes.”
He said Bahamians learned to operate other specialized equipment at BPL and are running the plants “all over this country.”
He added: “Does this have gold and platinum and in it that Bahamians can’t run?”
Mr Maynard further insisted that any workers brought in by Wärtsilä will never survive in this country, adding there needed to be clarity on whether the government will be receiving a $95m refund from Shell North America for the additional power generation. The government has signed a deal with Shell for the company to create a liquefied natural gas plant in the Bahamas.
The BEWU president was not the only one to express concern over the deal yesterday.
During his monthly press conference, Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis said the announcement raised many questions.
He said: “We still don’t understand their plans for BPL and there is also a question of the funding for the construction of this plant. That’s another question that will have to be answered. Where will the funds derive from for the construction of these plants?
“We had a plan for the redevelopment of the plant, the generation aspect of BEC’s overall strategy, that was to introduce the raising of the funds through what we call a rate reduction bond. That mechanism is still in place.
“We don’t know whether they are engaging that mechanism for the raising of funds, but I doubt it having regard to what I have seen happening.
“The real question is where will they be getting the funding to construct this plant and so they have to be more accountable and transparent in that relationship. That would be our concern,” Mr Davis said yesterday.
When Wärtsilä completes installation of the plant, BPL would have ended the expensive practice of rental generators and “drastically” decreased the fuel surcharge on consumer’s monthly bills Mr Heastie has said.
Power generation reliability in New Providence will also be a feature of this new plant.
BPL CEO Whitney Heastie told The Tribune last night in the short-term it would not be possible for Mr Maynard’s men to run the new equipment being brought in.
“They are not going to be trained in six months, that is not possible,” he said.
“Quite frankly anyone who looks at Clifton Pier today would say we have not done a very good job in training our staff in running two stroke engines, let alone the new four stroke engines we’re buying. It’s like comparing a simple scooter with a high performance car.”
Over a longer period, however, and after extensive training Bahamians will be operating the plant managed by whichever qualified company we chosen.
Mr Heastie said it was vital for the Bahamas’ long-term energy needs that the new engines are operated to the highest standard.
“These assets are going to be part of the Shell project. As our chairman has been at pains to point out BPL is getting out of the power-generating business.
“The new engines will come in and be ready by the end of the summer. When the Shell deal is finalised, at that point Shell will acquire the assets - they won’t be owned by BPL and we won’t be running the generating facility, Shell will. We’ll take equity in the new venture with Shell but they will manage it. This should not be anything new to Mr Maynard.
Should the Shell deal fail to be completed the new Wartsila engines will at least be up and running taking some of the pressure off BPL’s existing capabilities but still leaving it needing another long-term solution, said Mr Heastie.