By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Bahamas Power & Light’s (BPL) managerial union yesterday said the utility’s generation reforms are “on the right path” while voicing fears about its members’ job security.
Anthony Christie, the Bahamas Electrical Utility Managerial Union’s (BEUMU) president, yesterday called for the state-owned enterprise (SOE) to provide further details on how it plans to manage summer’s peak demand and the long-term power plant deal with Shell North America.
He also called for BPL employees to “be given every opportunity to perform” and be trained in how to operate the new 132 megawatts (MW) of generation capacity set to be installed by Wartsila at Clifton Pier by October-November 2019, in a bid to alleviate New Providence’s short-term energy crisis.
In a statement on the BPL’s recent announcement that it has hired Wärtsilä to “fast track” the $95m installation of new power generation, Mr Christie said the utility “still has trained and skilled technicians and professionally-registered engineers on staff, and they should be utilised and given the opportunity to perform”.
He argued: “If skills are not readily available then our workers need to work along with the experts to be trained and learn those skills. It’s not that we do not understand a Wartsila engine, as in any industry a company acquiring new fleet requires the staff to train on its operation and maintenance.
“The company needs to start now to build the competence in the staff to operate the new plant, especially a gas-fired plant, due to the new processes and safety issues.”
Mr Christie added that BPL should not only be talking about installing new engines but “ensuring we talk about the development of our people for these operations”. He continued: “As this plant will be operated for many years we need Bahamians to be developed so that they not only have just a job, but a career from which they can provide for their families and develop our nation. We need to become the experts here”.
The union president praised BPL for the steps it is taking to improve its operations. “Generation expansion programmes are important for the utility in order to ensure it continues to meet the demand and improve upon its operational efficiency,” Mr Christie said.
“BPL would have had these on the table for many years through many administrations and governments, and probably the major challenge has been the financing. As customers we want to have reliable electricity at the lowest cost. The company is on the right path to lowering the energy prices through fuel diversification, and through the introduction of renewables, and the BEUMU supports these efforts.”
Mr Christie added, though: “We are still challenged now as summer approaches, and the timeline outlined - though it is aggressive - will not have us see any significant changes until the latter part of the year. With the current generation capacity we still need help going into summer as the load continues to increase.
“In addition, there are a lot of questions and details to be exposed regarding the Shell agreement and the future of the company - in particular, its generation operations. The BEUMU is looking out for its members and all staff at the company, and is concerned about the people who work at the company, who are major stakeholders in the future of the company. What role will we play?”
Mr Christie said BPL’s voluntary separation (VSEP) exercise had resulted in the departure of many skilled workers. Yet “consultants, and persons on contract, both foreign and local, are being used to supplement all the work being done. It has yet to be determined if the VSEP was a benefit or are we back to square one”.