Equipment failures at the Wilson City Power Station (WCPS) lead to two significantly impactful island-wide power outages, frustrating consumers and leading Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) to hold a town meeting to address the issues with residents.
On Friday, February 17 at 8 am the first and longest power interruption began when the last pump for the cooling system at the WCPS failed leading to the shutdown of all generators at the site.
However, another failure occurred on the new equipment on Thursday, February 22 at 8 am, leaving residents across Abaco without power once again.
BPL noted that the fault was traced to the electrical cables connected to the new pumps. New cables were sourced locally and teams replaced the cables to bring the pumps back into service early the next morning.
BPL, after the initial failure of the cooling system, put Abaco on a load shedding schedule running off the generators at the Old Power Station (OPS) in Murphy Town. Residents were given a schedule for different areas to have two hours on and four hours off; although some communities had less actual time on at times.
At the BPL town meeting, Christina Alsten Chief Operations Officer said that it was known quickly – as she just acquired her role at BPL four weeks ago – that there were serious issues at the WCPS and noted that the pump and an extra had already been ordered and was near completion to be sent.
Ms. Alsten also noted that the WCPS currently has only one cooling system for all four 12 Megawatt Generators, which leaves the power station with a single point of failure and no backup system.
The two pumps, it was revealed, were ordered last year, and due to the specific type of pump needed, were ordered from a company in Arizona with a lead time of 25 to 30 weeks to deliver.
According to Ms. Alsten, the pumps were just completed at the time of the failure at WCPS and BPL moved quickly to expedite the shipment to Abaco, eventually having to find a plane to bring the 3600 pounds pumps to Abaco.
The pumps arrived shortly after 11pm on Monday, February 19 and BPL worked throughout the night to complete the replacement pump’s installation, restoring power across the island in the early morning hours of February 20.
Ms. Alsten indicated that the new pump should be better suited than the previous four pumps which all failed over the course of ten months. She said that pumps are not lasting their estimated life expectancy which they believe due to the salinity of the water.
The pumps are used to pull water from a well approximately 150 feet deep to supply water to the cooling system for the four generators.
She added that BPL would be looking to remediate the single point of failure issue and are already working on designing an additional cooling system.
Addressing concerns on the status of the generators, as residents widely speculate that one or more generators at the WCPS are inoperable due to lack of maintenance, CEO Whitney Heastie said that all four generators are working; however, one is currently out of service for routine maintenance.
Mr. Heastie also asked for patience as they work through the “ghosts” they inherited from the previous management of BPL. He said that he began just ten weeks ago, and Ms. Alsten just four weeks ago. It was also noted that they both have many years’ experience in the industry.
Mr. Heastie said that they are going to be as transparent as possible with the public and promised that unlike in the past, be more diligent in providing information and updates when necessary.
Speaking to BPL’s preparation for summer, usually a time when there are frequent outages, Ms. Alsten said that they are working to sectionalize the power grid which will mitigate island wide outages. Sectionalizing will prevent a lighting strike or car crash on one end of the island causing an outage across the rest of the island.
It was noted that they are working on other items to improve reliability some of which will be completed this year and others by 2019 or beyond.