By FARRAH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Power and Light Company is at the advanced stage of their restoration efforts in Abaco post Hurricane Dorian, according to chief operating officer Ian Pratt.
Speaking to reporters after a tour of their Wilson City Power Station facilities Friday, Mr Pratt said about 63 percent of its customer base on the island has had power restored since the deadly hurricane devastated it in September 2019.
With over $40m invested in restoration efforts, Mr Pratt said the company has restored power supply to more than 5,700 of its 9,000 customers there. Still, he admitted there remained several buildings and structures that were unable to receive power at the moment as they were in “various stages of reconstruction”.
“We are at an advanced stage in the restoration efforts here in Abaco,” Mr Pratt said. “The team on the ground focused initially on repairing and bringing back services to the south of the islands for a number of reasons. One: the lines in that area had limited damage and two: the customer base in that area also experienced limited damage and so they could have come back more quickly than anyone else.
“Subsequent to that, we moved to the north for some of the same reasons and we worked from Crown Haven down to Cooper’s Town to get that area restored and then came the arduous task of restoring the central portion of Abaco where most of the damage occurred.”
BPL workers estimated that pole loss in the Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay areas is about 85-percent. He said in view of this fact, it took “a great deal of time” to bring in the required materials and equipment in order execute the necessary repairs.
“Where we are right now, about 63 percent of the customer base is back,” he continued “There are a number of buildings and structures that cannot receive power right now and are at various stages of reconstruction and so as they are ready, they would make their application to the Ministry of Works for the relevant electrical installation approvals and occupancy certificates, bring them to us and we get them connected as quickly as possible”.
Mr Pratt said for the last few months, BPL has been connecting about 225 customers per month on average. He also said they had a number of their larger consumers that have not been able to return as yet, which has affected what their peak load and unit generated numbers look like at the moment.
“On that side of things, we’re about 50-percent of our peak demand,” he explained. “At our highest point in Abaco we were doing about 27-megawatts. We’re about 13.5 at present and that’s because a number of our large entities like Abaco Towns, one of the hotels along the waterfront, and other commercial consumers along the East Bay street area who received significant damage, they have not been able to come back yet.
As it relates to concerns about reliability issues on the island, Mr Pratt pointed out the fact that the process is focused on “restoring the distribution systems and making power safely available as quickly as possible”.
He said the company is currently restoring the transmission network, which is necessary to “improve the efficient release of power” from the station to other areas. Mr Pratt said “additional protection” among other things were aimed at improving reliability.
On Friday, BPL’s chairman, Donovan Moxey, said the company has been working with the government and other agencies “to build Abaco back better and stronger”.
“We learned a lot about the infrastructure that we had in place initially and we really thought long and hard about how we bring this island back in a way that would be sustainable and build in a certain level of redundancy in order for us to be able to bounce back from other storms,” he stated.
“And so what we’ve done here in Abaco is we’ve essentially built in a strong state of the art transmission line that’s going to the north of Marsh Harbour, all the way into Crown Haven. And what we’ve also done coming out of Wilson City, is actually built in two transmission lines to build in redundancy for power”.
Mr Moxey said Abaco has become the “proving ground” for what the company hopes to do in other islands as it relates to constructing renewable energy micro grids.
“Working with the IDB (and) the Office of the Prime Minister, we’ve essentially identified five locations that we deem our critical infrastructure locations that we’re putting in these renewable energy micro grids,” he said.
“And the thought process here is that in the event that there is another storm that comes through this island, these are the critical infrastructure that will bring back fairly quickly given the fact that you have micro grids that run on renewable energy…Abaco for us is serving as a model as to how we need to build infrastructure in order to be able to attain a certain level of resiliency moving forward”.
Elaborating on the upcoming transmission projects, Mr Pratt also said BPL is building a dual circuit line on steel poles going from Marsh Harbour all the way up to the north of the island to help bolster “resiliency and the hardening of their networks”.
“All of our transmission infrastructure is going in on what we call storm standard which will certainly be much more resilient than what was here previously which was more of a distribution standard,” he explained. “And that’s really because of the vintage of the infrastructure that was here at the time. So, what we’re focused on right now is working through the transmission network reconstruction…so the instant something happens they will know what’s happening which is a great advancement over where we were prior to the storm”.
As it relates to BPL’s solar sites, Mr Pratt said they are currently at the de-risking stages where they are looking at locations and ensuring the equipment is safe to install in the given areas.
“So, the government administration building, the hospital and the clinics, those are some of the sites we are targeting and what those micro grids will do is disconnect from the network if there is a power loss and keep power supply to those individual locations to make sure that government services and local government administrative services (along with) our health services, airport, etc, are still in operation”.
Mr Pratt also said the company is focusing on returning lighting to the streets of Abaco. He said their plan is to restore about 1,000 lights a month, which he estimates will take them until November to complete. He also said he did not foresee the solar project being completed before the end of next year.
“Wilson City is a 48-megawatt plant, and it was originally designed and installed in order to take care of the need at the time as well as new areas that we knew were being constructed at the time,” he explained. “The load at peak is 27-megawatts so this station is well able to meet that demand and more”.