By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
SOME Ragged Island residents incensed by a five-day electricity blackout last week have questioned whether the island’s newly commissioned solar plant is effectively servicing Bahamas Power and Light customers.
In interviews with The Tribune, residents recalled the “struggle” they experienced when a generator supplying power to about 50 customers on the island was struck by lightning leaving them without electricity.
While power was restored over the weekend through a replacement generator, BPL’s chief technology officer Burlington Strachan told The Tribune yesterday that the solar plant was not working during the commissioning ceremony last month.
However, he was adamant that before this issue, the $5m microgrid had been functioning properly since December.
“There was a major lightning storm on Ragged Island that damaged the conventional generator and caused issues with the batteries storage system – the micro grid,” Mr Strachan said yesterday.
“We are currently assessing that situation. We already got conventional generation back to the island. It happened early Sunday morning and so we are diagnosing the problem right now with respect to the microgrid and the remote communications to it with an intention to get it up and functional as quickly as possible.”
Asked about the concerns of residents that the microgrid had not been functioning consistently, he said: “The microgrid was functioning from December of last year up until commissioning.
“We had an incident at one point where there was a component failure that we had to get addressed and it was a while when we were waiting for that part to come in from the manufacturer under the warranty and then we had this incident as well.
“Some of the issues with the power on Ragged Island were not due to the microgrid, but were due to other things and so this is really no different from any other power system. It’s just solar based so there will be issues from time to time, but the system has been functioning as expected.”
He continued: “We had the part failure before the commissioning and then after the commissioning we had this issue with the lightning strike and so that’s why we were sort of running the system.
“They saw frequent outages because we were running the microgrid in the day and then switching to conventional generation during the night to minimise having long outages.
“They were having shorter outages.”
Ty Wallace, a Ragged Island resident, thinks that the grid has been of little benefit to Ragged Islanders.
“They installed the solar system there when they had the big ‘to do’ the other day with the prime minister and deputy prime minister coming to Ragged Island. At the time when they announced Ragged Island to be the first green island or whatever the system was not working at that time, period.
“When they installed the system, it ran for maybe three weeks then it shut down.
“The guys got it sorted and it ran for another two weeks. Then it went back down, and we had to run on the generator from then until the generator was struck by lightning last week.
“Then there was no power for five days and then the generator was sent. That solar plant is not working at all,” he said.
Another resident, Kervin Wallace, described the microgrid as “garbage”.
“It has to be pure garbage,” Mr Wallace said, adding that he was affected “big time” by there being no power on the island last week. He arrived in Nassau on Friday leaving his family on Ragged Island struggling with having no electricity.
Meanwhile, another resident said she had no water and was initially hard pressed to find canned gas for her portable stove.
“It was a struggle. You didn’t have any water,” the woman, who did not want to be named, said. “You had to search and find water and all of the residents have rainwater tanks so you just had to make do.
“When night came you had to go to your bed because there was no power. Like how I have an electric stove I had a portable lil’ hurricane stove, so I was able to use that. There was trouble finding gas, but I did get some eventually.”