By Youri Kemp
Only third world countries use the type of engines used by Bahamas Power and Light (BPL), said Bahamas Electrical Workers Union president Paul Maynard.
Mr Maynard was responding to a video by BPL's chief executive officer, Whitney Heastie, and an article by chairman Dr Donovan Moxey in which they said that BPL's fleet and equipment are some 40 years old. Mr Maynard said: "The engines are not 40 years old. It's the cables that are old and not the whole fleet, or what I would say the engines. The engines are about 26 years old. The oldest engine we have is 31 years old."
He added: "Only third world countries have the reciprocating engines we use at BPL's plant. First and second world countries went to turbines and aeroderivatives a long while ago."
A reciprocating engine is a piston-driven engine as opposed to engines that other countries have moved towards using.
Mr Maynard added that the new engines being brought in by BPL are also of the same style, saying: "The Wärtsilä engines they are bringing in are reciprocating engines."
The Wärtsilä procurement announcement for the engines said: "The technology group Wärtsilä has been contracted to deliver a power plant to the Commonwealth of Bahamas. The 132MW engine power plant has been ordered by the local utility, BPL, on a full engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) basis. The plant will be delivered as a fast-track project as it is due to go into commercial operations in the end of summer 2019. This will greatly assist BPL in improving grid reliability on the island. The order has been recognised over the past few months, with the last portion received in the first quarter of 2019.
"The plant will operate on seven high-efficiency Wärtsilä 50 engines. It will be fueled primarily with liquefied natural gas (LNG) when it becomes locally available, but can in the meantime operate on conventional heavy fuel oil. The operational flexibility of the plant, which will be capable of reaching full output from start-up in a matter of minutes, will facilitate the introduction of increased levels of renewable energy into the system. The Wärtsilä engines provide an effective balancing role, ensuring system stability to offset the inevitable fluctuations in supply from wind and sun, preparing for the deployment of large scale renewables on the island."
Mr Maynard said: "I see they are now bringing in an areoderivative engine from General Electric (GE). I'm not sure when that will come in."
Last month, Minister for Works Desmond Bannister said the cabinet had approved the purchase of a 30MW engine from GE and is expected to be in before the end of October.
Mr Maynard said that "aeroderivative turbines are certainly more fuel efficient" and estimated that consumers would be able to "cut their electricity bills by half" by using these.
He added: "Aeroderivatives use six barrels of lube oil a year and reciprocating engines use hundreds of barrels."
When quizzed by Tribune Business on how long would it take to change over to areoderivative turbine engines, Maynard said: "It would take a month or two before they can get on-line. Turbines are easy to get on a pad and then all you have to do is put it on a pad and hook up."
Speaking about the overall cost for changing over to aeroderivative engines, Mr Maynard said: "If BPL is going to spend the money they need to do right by the customer. We need to get it solved once and for all."
Mr Maynard said the best thing for BPL to do ultimately is "move towards LNG".
He added: "Solar could happen here if they think about it. You could use the elevated solar panels and put it around the water areas like Lake Cunningham and Lake Killarney and use it like we do the poles. I don't think there is a real interest in it at the time. We are stuck in the quagmire of this fossil fuel. It's up to the powers that be to decide, do I want to leave a legacy for my children or do I want to leave it in this mess?"
Pointing to the urgent need to fully modernise BPL, Mr Maynard agreed with Mr Heastie and Dr Moxey and said: "We need to fully modernise BPL. We have to bring the light bills down to a reasonable rate so this country can survive."
Mr Maynard also insisted that BPL needs to take on a significant partner with money to invest in development and further insisted that BPL needs to increase power to at least 300MW due to projects expected to come on-line such as The Pointe.
He said: "We work around the clock to keep the system going. You just have to be dedicated to your work."