The BPL Crisis: The Truth, The Whole Truth & Nothing But The Truth

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like people telling me what I want to hear. I like to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Even if it hurts.

In the past few months, officials at Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) have been doing just that – telling us the truth, but we have not been willing to accept it.

We want answers and more importantly, promises about when the load shedding will stop. BPL says it cannot give us any guarantees, but for many of us, that’s not good enough.

I get it. Bahamians are fed up. More than fed up, they’re pissed off and they have every right to complain. Every day they have been subjected to power outages which are occurring during one of the hottest months of the year. Their only reprieve comes during cooler temperatures or rainy days.

Businesses that don’t have generators have had to shut their doors because they can’t service customers. Infants and the elderly are suffering. Resorts have had to default to back-up generators to keep their operations going. Churches are holding funerals in the dark. Medicines are going bad.

The outages are completely unacceptable.

While few would have sympathy for BPL officials charged with fixing this problem, I think there is a need to step back and really think about this perfect storm that has blown their way and why they really don’t deserve to be blamed.

Delinquent customers owe BPL up to $100 million due to the fact that they didn’t or couldn’t pay their bills.

Last year, three fires ripped through Clifton Pier damaging two engines at the plant and compromising infrastructure. Officials say replacing that equipment could cost up to $150 million.

Then, in May, a massive fire ripped through BPL’s facility in Bimini leaving the island in darkness.

Compounding the problem is the fact that BPL is working with old and outdated equipment that is prone to failure. Some equipment is up to 60-years-old. The company is also struggling to find parts for old generators because they have been discontinued.

Consumers, fed-up with this energy crisis, have chosen to protest by not paying their bills. While I understand their frustration, that is not a smart move. BPL needs the money to keep its operation afloat. It is already saddled with delinquent customers. If the ones who currently pay, stop paying, BPL will be in an even worse position, thus prolonging our suffering.

Then there are consumers who are calling for the resignation of BPL’s leadership team. What for? Given the current state of affairs I suspect few would rush to step into that role, and even if they did, they would be faced with the same challenges.

I think it’s important to put things in perspective. BPL Chairman, Donovan Moxey has been in his current role for less than a year. BPL’s CEO, Whitney Heastie has been in his role for 22 months. That’s not a lot of time to turn around years of neglect and problems.

The problems that plagued BPL were in place long before either of those men showed up. It doesn’t matter who you put in place they will be faced with the same challenges. So, let’s at least attempt to be rational.

I’m just like many other Bahamians who are frustrated. I don’t own a generator and I every single day I suffer from a power outage in my area. I take three cold showers daily to cool off, but nothing works. Every time I sit down to write a column, I have to email it in five-minute intervals because I am fearful that I will lose my work when the power shuts off.

As I drive through my area I often see my neighbours and their families crammed inside of their cars in attempt to get some relief from their car’s air condition. I see it every night.

A friend of mine who recently had a baby was forced to purchase battery-operated fans because her child is suffering from heat rashes.

These are miserable conditions, but I don’t think for one second that any of this is lost on BPL officials. They are fully aware of the dire straits that this island’s residents are in.

 

The PM’s Radio Silence

 

I think one of the most disappointing facts throughout this entire ordeal has been Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis’ radio silence about BPL’s woes.

I don’t like making certain issues political, but this is a national crisis and he is our nation’s leader. Rather than addressing the people, he has chosen to avoid them. Either he is afraid to face the mob or he just can’t be bothered with the plebeians.

Either way, it’s not a good look for him.

It’s not enough to let BPL officials take the blame. Dr. Minnis is the prime minister and he previously sat as a cabinet minister in the Ingraham administration.

In fact, successive administrations share blame for this BPL crisis.

They allowed resorts and other energy-sucking facilities to be built without a real plan for how BPL would provide electricity for them.

Moxey, who appeared on the Ed Fields Live show on Monday addressed this very fact.

“From the board’s perspective, when you look at being a national utility you have to plan for the future; you have to future-proof your utility. So, when you think about how we drive our economy with foreign direct investment, the large investments are these huge tourist projects like the Atlantis and Baha Mar [resorts] of the world. We have to plan,” he said.

He said when he first got on the board, BPL officials told him that years ago they would never be informed when the heads of agreements were signed; they didn’t know how many megawatts the government guaranteed because there was no proper planning. He noted that some of the engines require a year lead time to get them into the facility.

The board is now thinking more strategically at how it looks at the utility services.

Disney recently got the go-ahead for a $400 million project at Lighthouse Point, The Pointe in Downtown Nassau is set to come on stream soon and there are a number of investments lined up. All of these will require energy.

The government clearly didn’t think about those investments and the demand they will place on our utility. It just wanted the business.

“BPL has made a lot of noise about not being included. Now, there’s a process in place where they are at the table early on understanding what’s in the heads of agreement and what the government is telling the investor it can do from a utility standpoint,” Moxey added.

If there is a bit of good news it’s this: by next week, BPL should have full capacity.

However, this doesn’t mean we won’t see more load shedding.

BPL is reluctant to throw out a date when Bahamians’ suffering will end. Smart move. Residents are frustrated with the frequent load shedding and will no doubt cling to any date they think will give them permanent relief.

However, we do know that on December 15th, we will have an additional 132MW of generation capacity when the new $95 million Clifton Power Plant is complete.

That will give BPL breathing room to do much-needed maintenance on the generators that have been giving it problems.

We can only hope and pray that things will go as planned and we can see an end to the load shedding.

But, until then, we must do our part to conserve energy.