By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A prominent Abaco official says yesterday was the first day in two weeks to largely pass without a power outage as he revealed that the island's energy woes are "the worst that I can ever remember" apart from Dorian's immediate aftermath.
Roscoe Thompson, chairman of the Marsh Harbour/Spring City Township, who spoke to Tribune Business at mid-afternoon, said the situation has "got to be hurting our tourism" at a time when Abaco is "chock a block full" with visitors throughout its cays.
He described the weekend situation at Marsh Harbour's Leonard Thompson International Airport, where airline staff were having to check-in passengers manually in the dark due to the absence of a stand-by generator, as "just unacceptable" given the last impression of Abaco it would create for many stopover visitors.
"Today we have not had an outage. I would say this is probably the first time in two weeks. It's been pretty bad, especially with second home owners and tourists, and for residents it's been a real hardship" Mr Thompson told this newspaper. "Businesses, thank God, some of them have generators so it doesn't affect them like that, but it does impact small businesses and restaurants that don't have the capacity for stand-by generators.
"It has taken a toll on some of the businesses not having a stable supply of power. It's got to be hurting our tourism. The island is pretty much chock-a-block full; the cays, everywhere like that. There's a lot of people in town and not having that reliable, consistent power makes it difficult if you do not have stand-by generators. On the cays you're dealing with cisterns and water pumps, which need electricity to run."
Mr Thompson said one asset that presently lacks a stand-by generator is Abaco's main airport. "It's been a big hindrance for the airport because they don't have an operational stand-by generator there," Mr Thompson said of the BPL outages which John Pinder, the central and south Abaco MP, branded "a disgrace" during the House of Assembly's Budget debate.
"I took my son to the airport on Sunday as he's going back to school," Mr Thompson added, "and I've never seen it that bad where they had to check-in people manually because there's no power. It's just unacceptable in the Commonwealth. I feel for the agents as they cannot see what they're doing."
Asked how this compared to previous BPL woes, he replied: "This is the worst I can remember it ever being in a long time. Even in all my time being here I don't think I've seen the power off so frequently. I don't remember it being ever this bad with regard to power. This is the first day that I've been able to do laundry. I spoke to another lady today, who does home catering, and she said she lost business because she was unable to fulfill orders, so it does affect people.
"Don't get me wrong. I understand during lightning storms that it's best to shut down generation rather than damage equipment, but I know Clifton Pier in Nassau doesn't shut down because they have mechanisms to redirect the lightning. I can't believe that we don't have that here."
Alfred Sears KC, minister or works and utilities, yesterday blamed lightning and bad weather for Abaco's recent power woes. He said: "“In Abaco, I'm advised that there was a weather incident which affected the distribution lines as well as the generation capacity in Abaco.
“Also, similarly, we had a situation in Acklins, also in Mayaguana. What they have done with respect to Abaco is they're sending additional engines. In Acklins we're sending, in Salina Point, a 300 kilowatt engine, in Crooked Island, a 500 kilowatt engine, so that there could be more resilience.”
While unable to predict what will happen moving forward, Mr Thompson said: "I can say with what's happened that it's not fair for businesses, it's not fair for residents, it's not fair for second home owners and tourists. BPL's bills are going up, and we're being provided with a half-assed service." He called on BPL's Board and management to be accountable for the problems, and explain the cause, adding that he was not blaming Abaco-based staff.
An Abaco businessman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said companies and residents now need to build a stand-by generator and its associated costs into the price of construction given the frequency of the island's outages. "It's been pretty bad," he said. 'Power's been out every single day, at least in the central Marsh Harbour area.
"It was probably out for six hours on Sunday, and out for three hours on Monday. It's been out between five and six hours every day for the last four to five days. Some of the cays, Green Turtle Cay was out for 12 hours and Hope Town was out for 18 hours. The power is out for six hours at a time. The other day it was out from 9am to 12pm, came on for 20 minutes, and was off from 1.30pm to 5pm.
"I think there's something more fundamental going on. Before the storm, before Dorian, we were having significant power outages because we didn't have the generation capacity. I don't think this has to do with infrastructure, I don't think this has to do with transmission and distribution. I think it has to do with generation, and that we just don't have it here."
The source added that, given the year-long wait for BPL to restore power post-Dorian, most Abaco businesses now have generators. "It is an item you cannot do without," he said. "You have to design your home and cost-in a generator because you know you need it, whether it's LPG, diesel or gas."
They added that, post-Dorian, their company's generator had cost $400-$500 per month in fuel to run until BPL restored power. These costs have dropped to $100 per month, but threaten to increase again if BPL's woes worsen.
Daphne Degregory-Miaoulis, the Abaco Chamber of Commerce president, told Tribune Business that BPL's issues have had "a terrible impact" on the island's functioning. She said it poses a hindrance to the drive to a digital economy, and reduced reliance on cash, if locals and tourists alike are unable to use their debit and credit cards and other means of electronic payment due to frequent power outages.