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Central/South Abaco MP James Albury (left) tours the Wilson City Power Plant along with Abaco Operations Manager Toni Seymour (center) and former BEC Chairman Frederick Gottlieb (front right).

Constant Power Blackouts and Poor Communication Frustrate Abaconians

After a “fault” resulted in an island wide power outage Abaconians were left in the dark for over 12 hours as they looked for answers and updates throughout the night.

Shortly before 8pm on June 19 many homes experienced an outage beginning with a sort of brown-out. Power was restored in some areas briefly after 9pm but an issue to the “control system at Wilson City Power Station” resulted in an extended outage which lasted for most until about 10am June 20.

While rumours and discussion swirled on social media Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) offered no updates a few hours after power was restored. Rumours abounded of vehicle accidents damaging poles, low oil pressure and non-functioning generators.

BPL’s press release informed that “at approximately 7:45pm, a fault occurred on the system resulting in an island wide power outage. Following full restoration of power an issue developed on the control system at Wilson City Power Station resulting in a further outage just after 11.00pm. Our technicians have been working along with external technical support since that time to resolve the issue.”

“We regret that the situation has led to the need for load shedding, however, BPL is working as quickly as possible to restore power to all customers and regrets any inconvenience caused.”

BPL scheduled a repair of the control system for June 21 with power set to shut off at midnight and return by 5am; however, the schedule was updated after further island-wide outages were experienced beginning shortly after 7pm.

There were additional unrelated power outages since then and it appears that the repair has corrected the primary issue; however, in the public eye there remain questions concerning the reliability of BPL in supplying electricity that many feel are unanswered.

Newly elected Central and South Abaco MP and Parliamentary Secretary James Albury, using social media, advised after the initial outage that he would look into the situation and seek to “address these concerns with the Minister responsible and stress that this is a major issue for our island that needs to be resolved as soon as possible.”

Mr. Albury would later conduct a walkthrough at the Wilson City Power Station on June 26.

Mr. Albury, along with former BEC Chairman Frederick Gottlieb, were greeted by Toni Seymour – Operations Manager for Abaco – who gave a tour of the facility and answered questions.

To dispel rumours that one or more of the generators were damaged, Ms. Seymour stated clearly that all four were operational with one currently under scheduled maintenance. She indicated that only two of the four are generally needed to generate sufficient power supply for Abaco and that they are cycled to maintain consistent usage hours between all four generators and provide scheduled maintenance.

She explained the issue occurring on June 19 resulted due to the completely computerized system the plant uses. Manual overrides are not built into the system to prevent further damage and in order to restart generation system diagnostics must be performed according to programming.

It was explained that the well-known, ongoing issues resulting in outages stem from an outdated distribution system and the archaic way Abaco was segmented in the past in regards to power distribution. The segmentation no longer is efficient and results in varying voltage for different parts of Abaco and the Cays.

A substation should soon be complete to help alleviate some of the problem.

A Comprehensive Protection Study of Abaco would help locate inefficiencies and determine better ways to use and distribute through the grid. Mr. Albury said he would seek to help facilitate such a study being conducted.

Responding to questions from Mr. Albury and Mr. Gottlieb, who was Chairman of BEC around the time the power plant was being constructed, it was admitted that contrary to plans made several years ago when the plant was being built a backdoor for monitoring the computer system by MAN was not installed.

Man is the German mechanical engineering company contracted to design and build the Wilson City Power Plant.

The original plan for four Abaco BEC engineers to attend an intensive training course in Germany also fell through. Whether this, or if a backdoor monitoring system was installed, would have prevented the recent incident is unclear.

Seymour admitted there is a known issue with the feeder system for the Hope Town distribution leg. They said they are presently seeking to address this issue.

Theft of copper grounding wire poses a continual threat to the sensitive distribution system as well. Grounding wire is replaced about three to four times a year.

Auto-reclosers, which act as circuit breakers for the plant, help defend the plant when ungrounded poles are struck by lightning.

More auto-reclosers are on order to bolster protection.

When asked why the public could not be notified of outages and their causes in a more timely manner, Mr. Albury was told that all communications must first go through Nassau and when the power is out engineers are busy working to resolve the problem.

Engineers on site also dismissed rumours constantly circulate on social media. Namely that oil pressure was not an issue, that the tanks were properly cleaned after filling them with water after a recent hurricane (filling the tanks with water was explained to be the proper course of action to prevent empty containers from collapsing) and that all four generators are functional except when under routine maintenance.

Mr. Albury asked what other things he could do to help facilitate more reliable power on Abaco. The biggest item on the list would be to start a Comprehensive Protection Study among some other issues. Seymour and Albury vowed to keep an open line of communication.

Albury thanked Seymour for facilitating the tour and for her time.

Members of the Hope Town District Council as well as North Abaco member of Parliament and Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield have also indicated interest in meeting with BEC/BPL to better understand and solve problems going forward.

Power outages have continued throughout the week, including up to press time on June 27.

About Timothy Roberts

Timothy had his first venture into Journalism just months after graduating from Queen’s College in Nassau taking his first job with The Tribune in 1991 leaving in 1992 for other pursuits.

During his time in Nassau he diversified his experiences working as a warehouse manager, locksmith and computer technician before returning to Abaco, a place he has always considered home, in 1999.

He joined the staff of The Abaconian in 2001 doing graphic design and writing an opinion article called Generally Speaking and after a brief time away, returned to The Abaconian in 2010 as a reporter, graphic designer and computer technician.

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