• BPL restoration has 12 days till 'Xmas rush’
• PM urged to intervene: ‘This is not a New Day’
• Tourism ‘golden egg’ calls for reinvesting taxes
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Briland resorts and property managers yesterday warned “we won’t have a product to sell if this continues” after the high-end tourism destination was hit by a third successive week of power and utility outages.
James Malcolm, a former Ministry of Tourism executive who is a realtor, and now runs a vacation rental/property management business on Harbour Island, told Tribune Business that Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) has just 12 days to restore full generation capacity before the “Christmas rush” kicks-in after four of its rental units failed.
The state-owned energy monopoly is blaming contaminated fuel for causing “significant damage” to its Harbour Island plant, resulting in “widespread outage” that have lasted for days including into yesterday. Mr Malcolm argued that, given the island’s contributions to the Public Treasury via tourism and real estate sales, the least “the golden egg” deserves is the provision of a new power plant and other infrastructure.
Confirming that load shedding was impacting Harbour Island throughout Tuesday, with power at his office already cut on and off twice at his office by mid-afternoon, he told this newspaper: “It’s unfortunate. I hope that they can get it sorted before the Christmas rush happens in a couple of weeks.
“This is the lull. Not a lot is going on. Things will start cracking from December 17-18. They’ve got ten to 12 days to get this solved, the shortfall, and get back to full capacity. Everyone is concerned. All the hotels, and most of the rental homes and marinas, have generators and have been OK. There’s very low occupancies. It’s the quiet before the holiday rush.
“What is the concern is that they have ten to 12 days to get this solved. We have ten to 12 days to get back to full BPL capacity. That’s what people are concerned about - when the hair dryers come on, the ovens come on, the water pumps and water heaters come on.”
The Ministry of Transport and Energy, in a statement issued yesterday, blamed the Harbour Island energy disruption on contaminated fuel that was supplied to BPL’s plant. The latter, though, has already warned that it may take an unspecified “several days” for all four impacted generation units to be restored to service while promising a “major investigation” into what has happened to prevent future occurrences.
BPL also confirmed this is the second Harbour Island energy interruption to result from contaminated fuel supplies within the past month. Tribune Business previously reported on a four-day outage that occurred over the weekend prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, which promoted Briland residents to hold an “emergency meeting” over the power and water woes, although BPL did not then provide the cause.
“It’s a major inconvenience when they shed power,” Mr Malcolm added. “Cable Bahamas’ nodes go out. We lose Internet access, which is frustrating, because there is a lot of reliance on power from the poles. It affects the water. The locals are unhappy. My landlord has their ice cream in my freezer because they don’t have any power.
“This island has been, and will be, the golden egg. Spend per capita per visitor will be the highest in The Bahamas. It contributes so much funds to the Public Treasury. Just give us back what we need to keep us going. It’s embarrassing. Harbour Island is where my family has been in the hospitality business for 72 years. It’s embarrassing to have this lack of infrastructure and have visitors coming here and having to worry about power.”
Mr Malcolm said all residents were keeping “yellow jugs in the back of their cars” to ensure they have a sufficient supply of diesel fuel for their generators. “It’s a scramble for diesel,” he added. “The island ran out a little while ago and we had to wait for the barge to come. Everyone’s hoarding diesel and protecting it. No diesel means no power, no Internet and no water.”
Briland residents, he confirmed, are also openly talking about reaching out to Spanish Wells to see if that settlement’s St George’s Power Company would “come in and build a new power plant” for Harbour Island.
Meanwhile Ben Simmons, proprietor of the Ocean View and The Other Side properties on Harbour Island and mainland Eleuthera, respectively, told Tribune Business the power outages have forced him to give two guests a full refund and facilitate their move to a larger property in the destination.
“I’m just off the phone with the front desk at the Ocean View,” he disclosed. “It’s just the noise. The guests have said they cannot stay in our property because of the generator noise. We’ve a very small property, and the generator that powers it is close to a couple of rooms. Because of the ambient noise they cannot stay on our premises.”
Noting that this is the “third week in a row” that Briland’s energy supply has suffered major disruption, Mr Simmons said water had also been out for ten hours on Monday night as he added: “To put it bluntly, it’s intolerable and if it continues we won’t have a product to sell.
“People come here for relaxation; this is a sanctuary. A vacation, a hotel is a sanctuary away from the stress of life. They’re here to recuperate, rejuvenate and it’s impossible to do that if they’re unable to enjoy the basic necessities of life. It makes it impossible if this is going to be the norm. I’m not going to try and sell people a product that does not meet expectations.
“The management of our infrastructure seems to be a continual struggle. I get it: We live in a small country. There’s 27 power plants that need to be serviced and managed, and it’s very hard to do that with limited resources. But at some point it has to change,” Mr Simmons argued.
“I’m not sure if BPL should let go on the monopoly of power and let private entities come in like Grand Bahama and Spanish Wells to run these services. We cannot continue with this concept, not to mention the hit to assets when breaker boxes catch on fire because of surge overheating.”
Urging the Prime Minister to intervene, Mr Simmons urged Prime Minister Philip Davis KC to intervene. “I hope our highest power in office, he can do something about it,” he added. “We need his assistance; something has got to change. It’s not a new day; it feels like yesterday. It’s a worry that we’re experiencing this and the island is not even full.
“Do we trust the excuses? I don’t know. I really hope and pray it gets better. I would hope there’s protocols in place to check the fuel before it’s delivered. You would imagine there’s simple protocols to deal with this. The question in my mind is: Is this really a supply issue where generators are under-sized for the demand. They say they brought in new generators for the regatta but that is not typically peak demand for Harbour Island.”
Mr Simmons said the power woes have not yet become “a destination issue” in terms of reputational damage through news of the difficulties spreading via social media and word-of-mouth. The Ministry of Transport and Energy, in its statement, said: “In Harbour Island, Eleuthera, the supply interruptions from generation challenges were due to damaged rental units affected by contaminated fuel.
“Immediate action was taken, including bringing in the rental units’ manufacturer for repairs and engaging in discussions with the fuel supplier to prevent future occurrences. Additionally, BPL is close to installing 5 MW (mega watts) of owned assets in Harbour Island, which is part of a more comprehensive plan for a long-term energy solution.”