Lights Out!

Following the ongoing national debate about the response by EMERA to post-Elsa damage to its network gets the blogmaster’s dander up. In 2012 the BU family predicted the decision by the NIS Board chaired by Tony Marshall to dump our shares in Barbados Light and Power (BL&P) to Canada-based EMERA would comeback to haunt us. ALL sensible Barbadians agreed at the time that BL&P was a strategic asset and any smart government should have seen the merit to ring-fencing the ownership – see BU Archive. The government received pieces of silver to bolster the foreign reserves and as we did in 2003 with the sale of the Barbados National Bank to Republic Bank the decisions of key companies operating in Barbados are being made offshore.

Better late than never is the saying. Barbadians are correct to question EMERA’s disaster recovery plan (DR) in light of what transpired with the passing of Hurricane Elsa as a CAT 1. What if…?

  • Is the Disaster Plan designed to optimally respond to unplanned incidents like natural disasters and other disruptive events?
  • Is it a regulatory requirement for EMERA’s Disaster Recovery Plan to be submitted to the Fair Trading Commissions (FTC) or relevant government agency to ensure there is alignment with a national standard?

The BL&P enjoyed an excellent reputation with Barbadians in the period before the sale to EMERA for power uptime, customer service and pole maintenance to list just three. Information is abroad that many jobs were retrenched and others outsourced to sub contractors when EMERA bought our strategic asset. Did Hurricane Elsa as a CAT 1 hurricane expose EMERA’s Disaster for Barbados?

Chris Halsall

The blogmaster is aware Transmission and Distribution (TD) of electricity is a highly technical area and reached out to Chris Halsall who has acted in the role of intervenor in FTC Rate Hearings to assist with the post Hurricane Elsa review.

A natural monopoly is a type of monopoly that exists typically due to the high start-up costs or powerful economies of scale of conducting a business in a specific industry which can result in significant barriers to entry for potential competitors. A company with a natural monopoly might be the only provider of a product or service in an industry or geographic location. Natural monopolies can arise in industries that require unique raw materials, technology, or similar factors to operate.


To understand why the electric company is a strategic asset and should not have been sold to EMERA is to accept that it is a natural monopoly. And efficient electric company is a requirement for a productive Barbados. Are we confident the FTC and Ministry of Commerce will protect the rights of Barbadians proclaimed under the Consumer Protection Act? Is it a case that at the end of the day EMERA will simply continue to invest in new deployment and expend on maintenance as they see fit by passing the costs to the consumer along with their allowed 10.4% ROR on the “Rate Base”?

This critique is not directed at the linemen seen scaling poles at ungodly hours during the last week to return households to full service. We have a tendency in the hysteria of the moment to conflate issues.

We turn our attention to EMERA’s pole plant:

1.  Poles
1.1.  There are many instances where poles are not vertical.  This is a good indicator the pole requires maintenance.
1.1.1.  It doesn’t take much effort to find poles mounted side-by-side, one or both leaning, tied together.

1.2.  Related to this are cases of vines growing on the poles and/or trees growing near them.
1.3.  Pole maintenance cost money.  This will, of course, have to be passed onto the Consumer.
1.4.  This is the “Layer 0” in the OSI model for wired connections –

2.  Cables
2.1.  As was documented at some length during the Rate Hearings way-back-when, “Pole attachments” are a big deal. They are why the poles exist at all.
2.2. The topmost attachment areas are for cables that deliver electrical power by way of Transmission (one or three phases of *very* high voltage).
2.3.  Next down is for Distribution (one to three phases of ~110V; two plus neutral is the most common).

2.3.  Then at the very bottom areas are for the various telephony providers to attach copper pairs (legacy), Coax cable (legacy), and/or Fiber (GPON, etc).

2.4.  The cables also require maintenance.  IMO, the telephony providers have not been maintaining their cables as well as they might.
2.5.  Cables are the “Layer 1” in the OSI model, and are the only options for power.

3.  Situational awareness
3.1.  Although BL&P has invested in “Smart Meters”, it would be interesting to know if this fed into their SCADA systems.

3.2.  It might be worth looking at having “Crowd-Sourced” knowledge of poles and/or cables which should be reviewed.
3.3.  The BL&P App needs which facilitates reports of faulty poles, light etc needs to be aggressively promoted and details of the reports and follow up shared with the public. To many anecdotal stories of reports of leaning poles with no apparent response from the power company.

4.  Alternatives
4.1.  Underground cables are less susceptible to winds, but are to flooding and are much more expensive to deploy.
4.2.  “Smart Grid” technology could make the grid more resilient.  But that’s a very long-term discussion.

Although this blog focuses on the quality of response post Elsa by EMERA, it is worth mentioning the number of poorly constructed homes damaged or destroyed and the inability of successive governments to legislate and enforce a building code.

144 thoughts on “Lights Out!

  1. I noticed that the are placing the cables underground along highway 1 which is now being redone
    Would it have made sense to have done it before?

    Barbados and emera infrastructures is in bad need of repairs/ over haul .
    It will not be done as no quick fix because of the large money that’s needed

  2. Agreed. But there is a difference between symbiotic and parasitic.


    Also agreed but where are the cross over line?

    Current Emera is paying close to 5% per share , ( subjected to fluctuations) in prices). Compared to other utilities that’s about in range

  3. @John2: “Also agreed but where are the cross over line?

    In my particular case, about 150 meters away from me the high-voltage line crossed the neutral line. Rarely a good thing.

    Levity aside, we’re trying to have a serious conversation here. You’re SNR is very close to zero. Read: you’re not helping (perhaps that’s your intention).

  4. Chris

    I am very serious in everything I said

    We all agreed that the infrastructure is piss poor

    You “ seemed” to indicate that emera is being parasitic . As a investor ( not in emera ) and with the limited knowledge of Emeras investments in Barbados so far I don’t see them as being parasitic

    Would I like to see greater / speeder investments ? Yes

    Put my question another way :
    How do you see emera to be ? And maybe why?

  5. @John2: “How do you see emera to be ? And maybe why?

    BL&P should ensure the T&D plant is “fit for purpose”. It, empirically, isn’t currently.

    Again, this will cost money. Which will be incurred by the consumers of services using the T&D and, separately, the poles. I do actually understand economics, in addition to tech.

    I won’t go into the issues I have with the FTC. But let’s just say the acronym expands into many different words amongst experts here in Barbados. Some of which include words not appropriate for work nor home. “Favoring” is one expansion I can share…

  6. @ Chris Halsall July 12, 2021 10:24 AM
    Empirically, the BL&P T&D plant is in need of review and, in many cases, repair. This will cost money, which will have to be incurred by the Consumers. It’s that, or we simply accept that whenever we experience strong winds we will experience widespread, and in many cases, long-term, outages.

    It all comes down to where the “economic curves cross”. Do we pay incrementally now, or in large lump sums at unknown times in the future (taking into account the loss of GDP when companies and people can’t work).

    What should be of equal concern are the economic ramifications for both Emera and the GoB as the country attempts to fulfil its mandate of going fossil-fuel free in just under a decade.

    What is going to happen to the ‘outdated’ generation plant at Spring Garden (with its massive ‘fixed-cost’ base) where no serious amount of upgrading investment cum Capex at shareholders’ risks’ will be undertaken during the ‘winter’ of its pending demise?

    Is that the reason behind Emera’s neglect of its plant maintenance and T&D upgrade and to focus on its ROI in order to recoup as quickly as possible its investment outlay in the Spring Garden dinosaur?

    Can Barbados look forward to more frequent plant breakdowns and outages in the coming years?

    Can the Barbados economy really recover and thrive in an environment where reliance on a steady supply of electricity in a growing digital world is key to success?

  7. CTUSAB questions BL&P manpower
    CONGRESS OF TRADE UNIONS and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) president Edwin O’Neal is questioning Emera Caribbean’s ability to service Barbadians with electricity.
    His comments come against the background of the Barbados Light & Power still restoring service to some customers following the passage of Hurricane Elsa on July 2. Emera owns BL& P.
    “Barbadians, based on the comments we have been getting, are not satisfied with the pace of recovery in the electrical sector. Our position has been that the population of Barbados has been suffering as a result of the inefficiencies or slowness in restoring the power. There have been significant losses by ordinary Barbadians because they have not had access to electricity. Are we so unreasonable to ask the question, why are we in the state that we are in since the takeover of BL& P by Emera Caribbean?” O’Neal asked during a media conference yesterday.
    Job losses
    O’Neal said that nobody could ever be so presumptuous as to say we can expect or cover all eventualities for a coming hurricane. But he wondered whether the job losses at the company contributed to a lack of manpower to service and carry out maintenance before the onset of the hurricane.
    “When you bring the Dominican crews in who are a part of a wider Caribbean association and it takes one week for them to get mobilised, what happens to those crews who were separated from the company? Do they not possess the same skills? Are the Dominicans bringing any skills to Barbados
    that are not already present and could not have been mobilised on the Saturday as soon as the storm passed? Were there not any Barbadians who are not in the employ of Emera who were and are capable of doing the reconstructive work that the Dominicans came a week after to give the BL& P crews a break?” he asked.
    A notice posted on the BL& P’s social media pages at about 5 p.m. yesterday informed that crews continued to work around the clock in an effort to restore electricity across Barbados.
    Crews continued work in Cambridge, St Joseph; Mount Tabor, Bowmanston, Kendal, Ashford, in St John; Date Tree Hill in St Peter; Chelsea Road and Chapman Lane, St Michael; Cluffs, St Lucy; as well as the Strong Hope Plantation and Chapman Village in St Thomas. (RA)

    Source: Nation

  8. I am generally impressed with a desire to hold BL&P to a higher standard than they are currently setting. Now if similar energy and desire could be mustered to hold those in charge of public purse decisions to a similarly higher standard, life may actually improve for many.
    It confirms it is not a Bajan condition which produces inaction, more likely a fear of retribution.

    • @NO

      In this case electricity supports OUR mother of all addiction to consumption behaviour. The power outage created a level of withdrawal that no other will be able to rival.

  9. @David
    In that case beware of inflation, for an economy so dependant on imports. This “transitory” theory being spouted is not reflected in my real world experience.

  10. The two thoughts that has weighed heavily on my mind are
    (1) If this is a category 1 what will happen if we get a higher category
    (2) What mode are we in? Is this just a repair and replace mode or are we identifying and strengthening weaknesses and preparing for the possibility of a cat2 and higher?

  11. Artax July 11, 2021 3:45 PM

    Spokeswoman for FPL, Marie Bertot, said neighborhood power lines were chosen for the program based on past hurricane outage performance, a history of vegetation-related interruptions, and other reliability factors.

    The project would provide a more reliable electric service since it would be less prone to LONG OUTAGES during and after storms.Q



    This a classic case Of what I meant when I said “ sometime it taken an EVENT to spur action”

    Fl experienced many events which lead them to their course of action

    If Barbados use to experience event like Elsa more frequently then I would expect that the push to harden the grid would be more advanced

    As Chris keeping saying – cost/ benefit will also be another major factor in what and how much corrective measures are taken and time period .

    I am not saying preventative maintenance should not be done . Form my observation this was very poor or close to non existence under both government owned an emera owned blp. Other may have observed differently then me

    Basically I agree with Chris and even wily assessment of our power grid . With you that blp should have remained Barbados owned etc ( but that in now water under the bridge for about a decade now ).

  12. @Miller: “Is that the reason behind Emera’s neglect of its plant maintenance and T&D upgrade and to focus on its ROI in order to recoup as quickly as possible its investment outlay in the Spring Garden dinosaur?

    You raise several important points.

    BL&P’s legacy carbon-based Generation plant is a “sunk cost”. And, big coin! Hundreds of millions. This is going to have to be depreciated faster than originally planned, which is why there is going to be a change in the grid-tied prices paid to independent (mostly PV) generation.

    Importantly though, the T&D is the sole component of the BL&P portfolio which will continue to have value in the post-carbon environment.

    IMO, it should be maintained (and improved strategically) extremely well. If the Company doesn’t see long-term value in doing this, it might be hoped their regulator would compel them to ensure it’s at least resilient.

  13. @ Chris Halsall July 14, 2021 10:51 AM
    Importantly though, the T&D is the sole component of the BL&P portfolio which will continue to have value in the post-carbon environment.
    IMO, it should be maintained (and improved strategically) extremely well. If the Company doesn’t see long-term value in doing this, it might be hoped their regulator would compel them to ensure it’s at least resilient. (Unquote).

    D’accord !!

    A safe and reliable T&D network is a vital component in any future digital-based economy. That’s why its upgrade and protection must be made the No.1 priority of the monopoly despite the large upfront costs.

    This ‘investment’ project is doable with costs (and profits) recoverable over a 20 year horizon.

    We can always point to Broad Street, its immediate surroundings and a few other (limited) areas where you will not see any dangerously dangling ugly web of wires all over the place.

    Why not go for the wider protection of such a vital infrastructure on such a small island to include the wider conurbation of St. Michael, Christ Church, St. James and St. George?

    Moreover, some of the future financing costs can be met through the savings achieved from a much-reduced dirty fossil fuel bill.

  14. @Miller: “This ‘investment’ project is doable with costs (and profits) recoverable over a 20 year horizon.

    In my opinion, this will be a never-ending project.

    Just to quickly add a few other dimensions to this problem space for those modeling it seriously:

    1.0. Renewable energy generation is not a panacea.

    1.1. Solar definitely, but also Wind, generation is variable in the temporal domain.

    1.2. Many people like the idea of carbon-neutral, but don’t want it “in their back yard”. Personally, I find large windmills to be beautiful kinetic art, but not everyone agrees.

    2.0. Because of 1.1. there will be the need to introduce energy storage into the network.

    2.1. This can be anything from pumping water up a hill, spinning up very large flywheels, melting salt, or storing in very large battery systems.

    2.2. A lot of research is going into this now, with “kit” available COTS. Telsa has some huge installations deployed in Australia.

    3.0. The current T&D grid here in Barbados is (mostly) designed to be a branching tree from a very small number of generation facilities.

    3.1. Additional capacity will have to be built out to change the “topography” of the network over time.

    3.2. Using “Smart Billing” to charge consumers more during periods of high demand can go a long way to smooth out the demand curves.

    If I may please say, I really enjoy serious conversations here at BU. Sometimes things can actually come to convergence… 😎

  15. Theo

    You already know the answer for your first question

    For question 2

    IMO. It was always a repair and replace mode under both owners

    We are slowly now turning to preparation mode

    Before we didn’t need it because “god was a bajan.” That is why we’re stuck in the repair/ replace mode only when needed for all these years

  16. @Jihn2: “What is the progress with connecting the final 1k+ customer?

    All I can personally say with authority is at least one customer is still without power as of this evening.

    They are friends of ours. And are also a tourist destination.

    A lack of electrons is bad for business…

  17. Leaning pole, downed lines still in way 

    A utility pole and several downed lines are still blocking the entrance to Folkestone Marine Park & Visitors’ Centre in St James.

    Since the passage of Hurricane Elsa on July 2, representatives of the National Conservation Commission and a business owner in the area said vehicular access to the popular St James spot had been restricted and power to some of the buildings impacted.

    And although some of the fallen trees were cut and stacked, they are hoping officials return to rectify the situation as soon as possible. (TG)

    Here, the utility pole and downed lines that are still blocking the entrance.

    (Picture by Shanice King.)

    Source: Nation

  18. There is a knock-on effect.

    Downed power lines hindering SSA crews

    THE SANITATION SERVICE AUTHORITY (SSA) says it has removed about 85 per cent of fallen trees following the passage of Hurricane Elsa on July 2 and is getting back on track with its usual garbage collection.
    However, public relations officer Carl “Alff” Padmore has asked residents to bear with them as they navigate downed power lines.
    “We have been experiencing some low-hanging wires. They were there before the hurricane, but naturally, with the visitation of Hurricane Elsa, they would have dropped lower. A number of areas in Christ Church, St Philip and St Joseph remain troublesome for us,” he told the DAILY NATION yesterday.
    Padmore said the SSA had been working closely with the Barbados Light & Power Company (BL& P), Flow and Digicel to navigate the fallen wires.
    “We have been reaching out to the telecoms group and also to Barbados Light & Power for assistance. There are instances where persons would have reported . . . fallen trees and asked us to come and remove them, but we don’t remove trees unless the trees are cut up. If we see wires going through them, we will contact the telecoms companies or Light & Power so that if there is electricity going through there, they can ensure safety first,” he explained.
    Some of the areas he identified as still inaccessible to SSA trucks were Dover Gardens, Maxwell Meadows, Gibbons Gardens, Old Chancery
    Lane, Park Road, Enterprise “B”, Keizer Hill No. 3, Platinum Gardens, Seaview Road, Windward Road and Caesar Drive, all in Christ Church; Johnson Development, Heading Circle, Manderley Gardens, Oldbury Gardens, Dodds Land, Cliff Heights, Webb Hill Tenantry, Harlington, Pelican Drive, Sunbury Tenantry Road and Vineyard Tenantry, in St Philip; and Parris Hill and Lammings Hill, St Joseph.
    Padmore said it was not that they did not want to remove the pile-up of garbage, but the wires remained problematic for some of the crews.
    “When one understands there is garbage in some of these areas for well over two weeks, you will understand the situation we have. It is not that we don’t want to service the areas; it is that the wires are low and some of them are in the road, so it is safety first,” he said.
    When contacted, BL& P manager, communications and Government relations, Jackie Marshall-Clarke said they were arranging a media conference for today at which all questions would be addressed. (RA)

    Source: Nation

    TRAFFIC WAS DIVERTED for hours yesterday after a utility pole at Harmony Road, St Michael, came crashing down.
    The incident occurred around noon after the pole split near its base and blocked the road. No injuries were reported.
    When the NATION team visited, staff from the
    Barbados Light & Power were repositioning the fallen wires and removing the pole, as members of the Royal Barbados Police Force redirected traffic.
    Around 7 p.m., the workmen were still on the scene.
    Here, workmen and police who were at the scene yesterday.
    (Picture by Reco Moore.)

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