By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
POWER supply has finally been restored at several businesses in Freeport following an investigation conducted by the Grand Bahama Power Company into a “fake” energy saving device that was allegedly sold to many business owners and residents on Grand Bahama by a local contractor.
The Tribune learned that power was restored around 6pm to the seven fast food businesses - three Burger Kings, three KFCs and one Pollo Tropical - there were disconnected a week ago due to suspected electricity theft.
The businesses owned by the Cooper family were forced to operate on emergency generators pending the outcome an investigation into a complaint filed by the GBPC after a metre audit revealed suspected electricity diversions at several businesses.
The family, which had maintained their innocence at the outset in the matter, had warned on Sunday that if power was not restored within a reasonable time they would be forced to shut down the businesses, which collectively employ close to 500 workers. They could also lose their franchise licences depending on the outcome of the police investigation.
On Wednesday morning, a sign was placed on the door at Burger King on East Mall notifying customers that it was closed for business and apologised for the inconvenience.
It is not known exactly how many employees are employed at the location, and efforts to reach the Coopers or their attorney Carlson Shurland, proved fruitless up to press time. The restaurant is one of the seven businesses which were under investigation by police.
The Coopers - which have been operating several successful franchise businesses for about 50 years in Freeport - denied any wrongdoing, and claimed that the controversy involved their use of energy conservation devices they had purchased from a legitimate contractor who had installed them.
The Coopers were not the only business owners subjected to an investigation. Sav Mor Drugs, operated by ArK Investments Limited, was also disconnected by GBPC over suspected electricity theft. The owner, like the Coopers, had also been detained and questioned by police in the matter.
When The Tribune visited Sav Mor on Wednesday morning, the pharmacy and variety store was still open, but running on emergency power generators. The loud engines from the mega generator could be heard as customers continued to pour into the store.
Sav Mor Drugs, operates the largest pharmacy services on the island and caters to many customers. A woman who identified herself as the store manager confirmed that their power supply was off, but would not comment any further.
When asked to speak with the owner, the woman went to make inquiries, but returned saying that the owner was not available. It was not known whether power had also been restored at Sav Mor last night.
It is believed the supposed energy saving device had been installed in many businesses and residences on the island by the contractor who is a licencee of the Grand Bahama Port Authority. However, no one has been able to find or locate or track down the contractor since allegations of electricity theft at several businesses surfaced last week following a recent metre audit conducted by the GBPC.
Closure of the businesses in question could have resulted in hundreds of job losses on Grand Bahama, which is already plagued with a high unemployment rate of around 12 percent.
Minister of State for Grand Bahama Senator Kwasi Thompson on Tuesday said that government was concerned over the matter and was eager for all the parties to find a resolution in the matter.
Following an investigation, GBPC reported the devices purchased by the businesses and residents are “fake energy saving devices and metre bypasses”.
“Recent investigations undertaken by the GBPC have revealed several residents and businesses have purchased an alleged ‘energy saving device’ from a local company, according to a statement issued on Wednesday.
“Through our investigations and discussions with affected customers, GBPC learned that these businesses purchased what they believed was an energy saving device from a local company.
“These businesses were a victim of fraud and were in fact either connected directly to GBPC’s power system via a metre bypass, or the metres were tampered with to under-read actual usage. These devices are not energy saving devices,” it read.
The company noted that at every location inspected by GBPC and the Royal Bahamas Police Force in the presence of the owners, it has been shown that all the devices are simply boxes consisting of bogus wiring with red or green lights, some with small unconnected LCD screens and sand filled canisters pretending to be capacitors in some instances.
“These fake boxes do nothing but act as a smokescreen for the dangerous diversion of GBPC’s electricity supply and bypass of our meter infrastructure.
“All customers with these fake boxes installed throughout the island have been obstructing GBPC electricity supply without paying for the electricity consumed. The devices shown on social media and referenced in news reports are not the devices that have been installed in businesses and homes in Grand Bahama,” the company stated.
GBPC explained that installations to divert GBPC’s electricity supply and bypass metering infrastructure are extremely dangerous to business owners, homeowners, occupiers, their workers, and the public at large.
“Safety of the public and our workers is our first priority. Therefore, the non-compliant installations must be rectified as soon as possible,” the company said.
The company stated that it does not know the number of fake devices and non-compliant installations on the island.
GBPC indicated that it will continue to be the leading proponent for the adoption of energy savings and renewable energy on the island, and will continue to provide its customers with the support they need to legitimately reduce their energy costs.
Customers are reminded to never disconnect electricity equipment without the help of a licensed electrician with the power supply isolated at the pole by GBPC. GBPC urges the public to report any suspected wiring and electrical system irregularities without delay in order for them to address serious safety issues. The company said customers can call their 24-hour hotline on 352-8411 or toll free at 242-300-4826.