Cooperative Coalition’s Response to Barbados Power Outage 21 Sept 2023

Posted as a comment to the Development by any means blog by Trevor Browne of the Cooperative Coalition, Intervenor – BLPC Rate Hearing 2021

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Trevor Browne – Cooperative Coalition,
Intervenor

Having participated in the now two-year-old BLPC Rate review process, the representatives of the Coalition of Cooperatives are not surprised at the recent island-wide blackout experienced by the BLPC.

There is no question about the complexity of maintaining an isolated island electric utility, twenty four hours a day, and every day of every year.

However BLPC has been characterized by; 

• the clear lack of strategic planning towards the National Energy Policy
• the refusal to invest in new plant now for over a decade since this has been known to be
needed
• massive cuts in maintenance systems and expenditure,
• and an alarming emphasis on extracting dividends that has been way out of proportion to past history for BLPC.

It seems intuitive that the price to be paid for such a strategy by BLPC will eventually be seen in increasing unreliability, outages and poor customer service. Indeed, it is our considered opinion that, were it not for the high quality of staff at BLPC and their personal commitment to serving Barbados, such outages would by now have been a regular feature of BLPC operations. However even such dedication has its limits.

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Power PROBE @BL&P a Must!

The blogmaster inquired from Chris Halsall how would a distributed power generation model affect BL&P’s profit and loss in the aftermath of last week’s catastrophe –Barbados Gone Dark.

He responded as follows:

ROK (RIP) and I relied on Douglas Skeete during the rate hearings for the financial dimensions, but my understanding is moving to a distributed generation model would have no impact on the BL&P revenue model. No changes to the equations, simply the variables.

BL&P is allowed to earn up to 10.48% based on the Rate Base. The Rate Base is the amount of capital invested in “plant” that is directly responsible for power Generation, Transmission and Distribution. As this is amortized over time, what this actually means BL&P is allowed to make less profit unless they reinvest in the plant.

BL&P will always be needed by Barbados to invest in, maintain and manage the T&D. It’s a “natural monopoly” (and unbelievably complex) — you don’t want multiple different providers each erecting their own poles and then stringing cables. BL&P will also always be responsible for a large percentage of the generation.

It is important to note that this is not going to happen overnight. And there are legitimate concerns by BL&P — it might have to carefully manage an environment where they don’t control all of the generation capacity that the country might need at any given time, but would still be responsible for getting the electrons from where they’re being generated to where they’re needed.

And, the transmission network might require upgrading, if, for example, large generation capability is planned to come online somewhere where appropriate capacity doesn’t already exist. Who would pay for that, the BL&P (and, thus, the power consumer), or the private generation provider?

This is a non-trivial problem space, with many, many dimensions.

The blogmaster will add to Halsall’s view on the obligation of BL&P given the permission by the regulator to earn  a 10.48% Rate of Return on Rate Base.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley indicated in one of her take charge interviews last week that the time  will come to hold actors in last week’s fiasco responsible – the priority now is to stabilize the power supply to the country. Sorry Prime Minister, the blogmaster does not agree, we can do both at the same time especially if we are confronted by negligence, greed and incompetence.

There is one observation those who followed the press briefings must be concerned about –  Managing Director of BL&P Roger Blackman boldly stated one of the reasons for not replacing old problematic diesel equipment was heavily influenced by government’s decision at the time to allow Cahill Barbados to operate a plasma gasification plan in Barbados.

The other issue that triggered concern was the feedback from BL&P that unwanted contaminants were discovered in the fuel supplied by Barbados National Oil Company Ltd (BNOCL). The obvious question is what responsibility does BL&P have to ensure the fuel supplied by BNOCL meets the specifications to ensure the old diesel engines do not have a bad reaction.

The local media should join Barbados Underground to question the quality of BL&P’s decision which has led to the current perilous state of affairs. Should citizens take comfort in the fact the regulator – Fair Trading Commission – has launched a probe? For years the BU family has raised concerns about energy generation in Barbados. It reached a peek during the Cahill saga. How does being reactive get us anywhere?

No Power… No Vision

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The Barbados Light and Power Company (BL&P) is one of the local utilities most Barbadians will agree has provided a better than satisfactory level of service through the years. The blogmaster does not have access to the ‘power outage’ history of BL&P since it was delivered to the Canadian power company EMERA. However, if one were to go by the anecdotal it seems the company has struggled under new ownership to sustain the high level of service Barbadians have become accustomed. Even the monkeys making mock sport at dem!

There was an island wide power outage on the 8 January 2018 at 3PM and at the time of updating this blog areas of Barbados remain dark as well as with intermittent service. According to social media reports the power company has advised that its Seawell substation in Christ Church is the source of the problem and technicians are working around the clock to fix the problem .

Barbados Underground has always defined the BL&P as a national strategic asset which the government should never have allowed the ownership to slip into the hands of the Canadians for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver. An advantage to being small should be that we are able to build and implement strategic plans to maximize on our resources. The ‘disparate’ approach to how we have been governing this little rock has started to generate undesirable outcomes in every sphere of activity- protracted depressed economic performance, inability to implement a sustainable waste management program; evident by infrequent garbage collection and inefficient sewage disposal, unstable industrial climate, operating at the murder median in the last decade, the rise of NCDs and obesity etc, etc and etc.

The upcoming general election serves as the ideal opportunity for Barbadians and others vested in a well-managed Barbados to up the quality of debate -to do. We have a responsibility to our children and future generations. We have a duty to protect and build on the rich legacy our forefathers have laid for us.

In plenty and in time of need
When this fair land was young
Our brave forefathers sowed the seed
From which our pride was sprung
A pride that makes no wanton boast
Of what it has withstood
That binds our hearts from coast to coast
The pride of nationhood

Come on Barbados, we can do this if we try.