By Neil Hartnell and Natario McKenzie
Tribune Business Staff
BIMINI homeowners yesterday warned Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) has a “ten-day window” to fully restore the island’s generation capacity before the high tourism season kicks in again.
While residents and businesses owners expressed relief that they did not appear to be facing weeks without electricity following Monday night’s blaze that destroyed almost nine megawatts (MW) of generation capacity, concerns remain over whether Bimini has sufficient capacity to handle the extra load demand when visitor numbers increase during the imminent school holidays.
Homeowners who rent their properties out to visitors told Tribune Business that calls from prospective tourists, asking if they should still come to Bimini following the power plant blaze, had been “off the chain” yesterday with some cancellations already occurring. The fire was said to have been screened widely on local TV stations in South Florida, which is the island’s key visitor and boating market.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism, was among the first yesterday to express concern over the impact Monday night’s fire may have for Bimini’s vacation home rental market.
“Bimini has large hotels, the biggest of which is Resorts World and a number of smaller properties,” he said. “I believe that those have back up power; certainly Resorts World, because I was there two weeks ago. At that time there was power failure and the back-up generators kicked in.
“It also has a very large vacation home rental market, and that’s where it’s going to have the most devastating effect. This is very concerning and I’m sure that BPL is working as hard as they can to ensure that they restore the power, but we all know that BPL has been facing some enormous challenges down there.”
While power was said to have been 100 percent restored to Bimini by last night, BPL warned in a Facebook posting that its two main generating units - which can produce a combined 8.8 MW of capacity - had been “irreparably damaged” by the blaze.
“Preliminary inspections at Station B in Bimini suggest that the two primary generating units on the island of Bimini, each rated at 4.4 MW, have been irreparably damaged by the fire last evening,” the state-owned utility said.
“In addition to the engines and generators themselves, auxiliary equipment such as pumps, filters and electrical switchgear have also been destroyed by the blaze. These units represented the base load machines on the island. The cause of the fire itself has not been ascertained. This will be the subject of an internal BPL investigation as well as reviewed by the relevant agencies and local and international insurance adjusters.
“At present in Bimini, BPL has approximately 8.5 MW of generation available. Assesments are being made to determine the short and long-term plans and steps necessary to ensure the reliability of the supply. We will provide further updates as information becomes available.”
A Bimini Sands homeowner, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tribune Business that they and fellow homeowners had made contingency plans to fly and ship in generators from the US if necessary should BPL be unable to restore power.
While this has not been effected yet, they added: “We are deeply concerned that if they don’t get generation in ASAP (as soon as possible) they won’t be able to meet demand and tourism will suffer.
“It’s been off the chain with people who have made reservations. We heard the power plant burn down. Do we still come? Bimini needs a clear resolution from the power company quickly. It’s already affecting things. We need to have a clear resolution as fast as possible, one way or another. If there are rolling blackouts people are not going to come.”
The homeowner added that a fishing tournament scheduled for Bimini Bay this weekend, organised by the Construction Association of South Florida and set to feature 30 boats and 120 persons, with a projected $200,000 economic impact, could be affected if power supply was unreliable.
A homeowner at Bimini Bay, which features 400 condos and town homes, expressed similar concerns: “We’ve got a lot of rentals coming in. What do we tell them? We don’t want them to pull up and have no electricity for several hours.
“This is the high season for rentals. People pay thousands of dollars. We need to have some definitive commitment from the power company that they fix it right. We have as much concern for the Biminites and their well-being as we do the homeowners.”
Bimini business owners spoken to by Tribune Business yesterday said that they initially feared the worst, and that the island may have been without electricity for several weeks. However, BPL had already restored power to the island when this newspaper reached them.
Sue Duncombe, proprietor of Sue & Joy’s Variety Store, told Tribune Business: “We do have power in the store which is across the street from Bimini Big Game, and I do have power in my house which is next door to BTC.
“We have been very fortunate because the type of fire that was, I was thinking we were going to be without power for a couple of weeks. That was very frightening but fortunately things seems to be getting sorted out.”
“Thanks to the efforts of BPL the power is back on. We haven’t had any disruptions in my area, Porgy Bay. I’m just glad that the power is back on because it could have been much worse; I thought it would have been worse,” said Patricia David of Ebbie’s Bonefish Club in Bailey Town.
Mrs David added that power reliability has been an issue on the island at times. “The power situation here is not as good as it should be. Over the Memorial Day weekend, when we get plenty boats and everyone is plugged in, we have an issue,” she said.
“Bimini was very busy this Memorial Day weekend but the marinas weren’t that filled so we didn’t have an issue over the weekend. Sometimes the power is off and on. Fortunately this past weekend it was on.”
A Bimini Big Game employee told Tribune Business yesterday afternoon: “Right now we’re ok. The power just came back on. Our operations are back to normal.”
Missy Lawrence, president of Resorts World Bimini, told Tribune Business: “The Resorts World property has full back-up power generation supporting the hotel and casino that sustained the business throughout the evening. As the power issues were resolved on island today we were able to continue our back-of-house operations. Due to this quick response we have not experienced any lapse in operations.”
Desmond Bannister, minister of works, said: “I apologise to the people of Bimini for the inconveniences suffered during the night. That is our responsibility and I have to assume responsibility for it. The fire will be investigated thoroughly and independently. The good news is that while two generators were damaged we still have five operational generators in Bimini.”
He added that power had been restored to Bailey Town early yesterday morning, and was expected to be restored to Alice Town by 1pm yesterday afternoon. Mr Bannister said BPL has five staff members working at its Bimini plant, each with 30 years experience, and added: “I wish to commend BPL’s hard working staff who worked through the night to make this possible. We are forever grateful to them.”
BPL chief executive, Whitney Heastie, travelled to Bimini yesterday to assess the situation.