By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamians “shouldn’t fool ourselves” that Bahamas Power & Light’s (BPL) woes have gone away amid the post-Dorian chaos, the Chamber of Commerce’s top executive warned yesterday.
Jeffrey Beckles told Tribune Business that a solution to the state-owned utility’s daily three-hour load shedding on New Providence had to be “around the corner” with the vital winter tourism season just two months away from starting.
Reiterating that the private sector, in particular, had not forgotten the hardship still being imposed on residents and businesses via BPL’s regular blackouts, he said the Government and state-owned utility had to address the problem “with the greatest sense of urgency”.
Mr Beckles said the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Dorian had made tackling BPL’s New Providence generation shortfall even more critical because the loss of Grand Bahama and Abaco - the second and third largest island economies respectively, and which contribute a combined 15-20 percent of annual GDP - meant The Bahamas was almost solely reliant on its capital city for economic growth.
With private sector confidence in the reliability of BPL’s supply badly shaken, if non-existent, the Chamber chief said the present situation made it impossible to power the economy forward.
“Dorian has obviously taken away the focus on the immediate issue of BPL,” Mr Beckles told Tribune Business. “We shouldn’t fool ourselves. That’s a reality that needs to be repositioned, and progress needs to be made immediately.
“While the hurricane and its aftermath may have taken our attention for the moment, it’s still an issue that we must resolve with the greatest possible sense of urgency. It does not mean no one is paying attention, but if the rest of The Bahamas is going to rely on us here in Nassau to provide the leadership, support and direction then we must have stable power.
“You can’t drive the economy without power,” he continued. “I’ll say this: As we get into the fall season, the private sector needs to have confidence a solution is literally around the corner because, in a few weeks, we will looking at the Thanksgiving holiday and increased hotel occupancies, then Christmas.
“The right reasons exist for us to continue to push. A lot of people feel stretched, but this is the hand we have been dealt and we must play it. This is also a good opportunity for us to look at the energy sector and any solutions we wish to apply.”
BPL yesterday confirmed it still faced a 26.2 Mega Watt (MW) shortfall in its New Providence generation capacity, possessing only 193.8 MW of available supply set against a daytime peak demand of 215 MW and 220 MW at night. It indicated there will be no change in the three-hour load shedding rotation today, with the shortfall expected to increase to 30 MW.
The only bright spot for BPL’s long-suffering customers is that, at least for the moment, the state-owned utility monopoly is sticking to the end-September timelines previously given for the restoration to service of two engines - which can supply 44 MW - at its Blue Hills power plant. However, previous deadlines for their return have proven optimistic and subsequently pushed back.
Desmond Bannister, minister of works, who has responsibility for BPL, earlier this week pledged to Tribune Business that “we’re never going to go through a summer like the one we went through again” although many are unlikely to share his optimism until this becomes the reality persons can feel and touch.
It has become increasingly clear, though, that beyond repairing the two Blue Hills units there is no immediate solution to BPL’s woes that the Government or utility have in the works. The only other hope is that cooler fall temperatures reduce energy demand enough to eliminate, or significantly reduce, load shedding until the new 132 MW provided by Wartsila’s engines is installed.
Mr Beckles, meanwhile, reiterated that the Chamber and wider private sector were “very, very concerned” about the wider ramifications for the Bahamian economy as a result of this week’s oil price spike following the attacks on key oil-producing infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.
He said the Monday increase, which represented the sharpest jumps on record, with Brent crude and US crude prices rising by 14.6 percent and 14.7 percent, respectively, “could not have come at a worse time” given Dorian’s devastation and the load-shedding summer crisis endured by BPL customers.
Oil prices fell back yesterday amid Saudi reassurance on production levels, but both the industry and market are said to be “on edge” over the possibility of further attacks and renewed Middle East political tensions. This is the worst possible outlook for The Bahamas because it relies 100 percent on fossil fuels, such as oil and oil derivatives, that are all imported.
“We ought to be very concerned,” Mr Beckles said, noting The Bahamas’ status as an energy price taker. “There’s so many components of our economy that are attached to oil and fuel prices.
“Airlines flying here will be impacted so their prices will increase, shipping will be impacted, electricity costs will be impacted and every day living will be impacted. We’re watching it, and the market reaction, and are very, very concerned.
“We are hoping this is not a long-term trend, and that it can be resolved as it impacts how we get our economy moving again. We couldn’t ask for a worse possible time on the heels of Dorian and what we have gone through this summer with the power company. The last thing we need is a meltdown in global oil prices.”