Bahamas Power & No Light: Relief On The Way, But For How Long?

By Rogan Smith

If ever we needed a reminder that The Bahamas is a developing country, we got it this past weekend after thousands of New Providence residents were left in the dark and forced to contend with the sweltering heat conditions due to Bahamas Power and Light’s (BPL) load-shedding.

Residents were somewhat hopeful that history would not repeat itself after BPL Chairman, Dr. Donovan Moxey said he did not expect any load shedding this summer. That was April. Fast forward to June and residents are experiencing three and four-hour blackouts on a daily basis. It’s been painful to say the least.

For decades, BPL has been challenged to keep pace with the electricity demands that the summer months bring. And this summer is no exception. BPL says increasing customer demand due to high temperatures, coupled with generation outages were the perfect storm for what transpired over the weekend.

On Monday, during a news conference, Moxey and his team delivered good news and bad news all rolled into one.

He said relief would come in “short order” as the first of BPL’s generation rental units is expected to be installed Wednesday, and the second installed this weekend.

Those rental assets are expected to relieve the pressure on the power company’s system immediately. Moxey noted that that, coupled with the machines that are being repaired and brought back into service, will give BPL breathing room as far as the load is concerned.

Almost immediately, there was a collective sigh of relief, until he said this.

“It must be said, however, that even with these generators, the possibility of load shedding remains until we have completed the 132-megawatt [engine] power plant under construction in Station A at the Clifton Pier Power Station,” he said.

Uh-oh. Basically, we’d better put those battery-operated fans on standby. We’re going to need them.

The installation of that $95 million tri-fuel plant, which is capable of burning heavy fuel oil, diesel oil or liquefied natural gas (LNG), is expected to be completed this year.

That may not seem like a long time, but for residents frustrated and impacted daily by frequent outages, it feels like an eternity.

A Cruel Summer

This past weekend’s episode tested the patience of many residents, many of whom flooded social media – and BPL’s online platforms – with angry messages.

Residents weren’t the only ones burned by the outages. Many businesses were forced to shut their doors because they couldn’t service customers. Restaurants without generators were seen turning customers away in droves. To say the outages have impacted business operations would be an understatement.

However, there are companies who have benefited somewhat from the load-shedding – appliance stores, which have seen a spike in customers shopping for portable generators, battery-operated fans and the much-needed surge protectors.

But, not everyone can afford these items, which these days function more like necessities rather than luxuries. For those who can’t, it’s really about to be a cruel summer.

What’s more, most homes and businesses are outfitted with sensitive equipment that are also being subjected to these daily power surges. One could see how it would be quite easy for that equipment to become damaged. Not everyone can afford to purchase a surge protector for each item.

Moxey has urged customers with damaged equipment to file a claim. But, first, they will have to wade through incredible red tape, as BPL has a reputation for putting residents through a lengthy process when they seek compensation for damages.

Unless you’re an incredibly patient person with tons of time on your hands, you’d have better luck replacing your items on your own.

Many residents have called on BPL to release a schedule that would advise members of the public on when these scheduled outages will take place. BPL quickly nixed that idea, saying that to do so could potentially lead to a spike in crime, as individuals would then know which areas would be without power and when.

We’re Partly To Blame For Our Situation

While many are quick to point the finger squarely at BPL, we have to remember that we all played a role in its current state of affairs.

Yes, we’re dealing with old equipment. Yes, we’re also grappling with past mismanagement at the state-run utility. But, a lot of our problems stem from the fact that customers are simply not paying their bills on time or at all. Yet, they have an expectation of a high-performing, efficient power plant.

We must temper our expectations. As the saying goes, we can have anything we want. As long as we’re willing to pay for it. It’s as simple as that.

We could have had a reliable power company, where electricity supplies are only cut for lack of payment or in the most extreme circumstances, but there is a cost to that. Are we prepared to pay for it? The answer appears to be a resounding no.

BPL has been incredibly transparent about its financial position.

We have gotten detailed accounts throughout the years of the amount of money the organization is losing.

The organization has half a billion dollars’ worth of legacy debt and delinquent customers owe as much as $100 million. Simply put, people aren’t paying their bills.

If the company is not collecting money on a timely basis, it cannot purchase parts and maintain equipment. This affects the company’s efficiency. We all feel the effects of that down the line.

While there are some residents who pay their bills on time and don’t carry high balances, they are the anomaly, and sadly, many of the loudest voices during power outages occur come from those who are delinquent.

If there is good news in all of this, it’s that the generators are on the island and the power plant is underway.

Until then, we’ll all just have to wait it out and sweat it out in the process.

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