By FARRAH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS POWER and Light executives said the two system disturbances that left customers throughout New Providence without power on Friday were not related to load shedding.
On Friday, the company reported that a fault on the transmission network caused Big Pond Primary Substation and Blue Hills Power Station to go offline. This affected customers in the east, southeast and central portions of the island, leaving them without electricity for hours.
During a press conference at BPL’s headquarters a day later, Whitney Heastie, BPL’s chief executive officer, revealed that two separate system disturbances caused the power outages.
“(In) the first instance, the disturbance caused outages in the eastern end of the island — that was restored,” he said. “The second system disturbance caused outages in the western end of the island. That took a little bit longer to restore.”
Sterling Moss, BPL’s director of field operations, added the main line between the company’s Clifton Pier and Blue Hill Substations “came out of fault,” which resulted in areas around Clifton Pier being affected.
“Our teams worked to address this issue and around 5.30pm (on Friday) we had all customers restored,” he continued. “At present, the reasons behind both outages are under investigation...so by sometime next week, we will be able to determine what is the cause for both faults.”
Asked whether the company was still confident in their newly installed generators, given the most recent power outages, he added: “It’s important that we make clear that the incidents yesterday had nothing to do with generation.
“... We have had no incidents of load shedding during the summer. The generation on this island is sufficient. So these are not connected issues, these are not related to load shedding.”
Last summer, BPL made headlines for extensive load shedding exercises that forced many to believe that the company was in the midst of a crisis.
On Saturday, Mr Heastie agreed the difficulties BPL experienced last year could be categorised as a crisis, since BPL did not “have the supply to meet the demand,” at the time. He also admitted the company was “not there on the generation side of the house” either.
“The customer really doesn’t care where the outages are,” he said. “The customer just wants power and so whether it’s actually a generation issue or transmission issue, or a distribution issue, the customer just wants to know the complete network is intact.”
Mr Heastie said BPL had 380 megawatts in its system that could be dispatched “at any time” and load wise, BPL “typically peaked around 250mw.”
He also said he was not sure whether the company would reach the peak, since a lot of the island’s hotels are closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and BPL has not hit 240 megawatts for the year.
“So generation is not bad but...this is not about generation or TND (transmission network distribution),” he said.
“This is about reliability to our customers. We want to make sure that our customers know at the end of the day that we’re going to be reliable.”
Mr Heastie said BPL requires $30 million to $40million on a “monthly basis just to run their day-to-day operations,” a figure he said doesn’t even “account for capital improvements.”
“And so just to put in the new infrastructure to export the power out of the west at Clifton Pier, where our largest consumers are on the east, we need more transmission networks,” he said.
“Right now, we’ve got four transmissions networks: the transmission network between Clifton Pier and Skyline, the transmission network between Clifton Pier and Big Pond and the (one) between Clifton Pier and Blue Hill Power Station. That’s not enough if we want to put more generation here, because the maximum load is in the east that is spared from these two primary substations.”
Ian Pratt, BPL’s chief operations officer, said the company has used “quite a bit of capital” over the last year to increase generation capacity. He said executives did this because they wanted to ensure BPL had sufficient generation capacity to meet the needs of the island.
“Any transmission distribution system is susceptible to various potential impacts. So you can have weather related impacts (or) you could have what we call human interference (like) kites.
“...The thing is to make sure you have the systems in place to contain those outages as much as possible and prevent them from spreading throughout the network. So some of the work we’re doing right now is to improve those systems that are aimed at containing potential events.”
Mr Pratt said BPL plans to carry out “additional work” on the TND side to improve the company’s protection systems and increase capacity on the transmission side.
“So we did increase the capacity on the generation side and what we are aimed at doing over the course of this year, and (the) next, is to increase the capacity on the transmission side as well. (This will) bring all of that power that we’re now generating at Clifton Pier up onto wherever the customers are, which are predominantly on the eastern side of the island,” Mr Pratt said.
When asked if he could give a dollar value on what the investment would look like, Mr Pratt said he believed the “budget line item” was somewhere around $40 million. A sum geared towards ensuring the company had redundancy in the network and sufficient capacity to bring the new generation when Station D came online.