Thursday, July 11, 2019
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
OPPOSITION leader Philip Davis yesterday called for the immediate release of the report detailing the fires that crippled infrastructure at Bahamas Power and Light’s Clifton Pier Power Plant last year.
Mr Davis told The Tribune “heads must roll” over the power company’s management and handling of the current energy crisis, adding it was clear officials were “out of their depth”.
The BPL fire report was submitted to the government in January; however, officials have been tightlipped over details concerning when it was completed or its contents.
Mr Davis told The Tribune he no longer believed the fire report was being withheld to protect the integrity of BPL’s insurance claim, and called on the government to break its silence over the circumstances that led to last year’s fire.
The company was in the final stages of negotiations with insurance adjusters, according to Executive Director Patrick Rollins, who yesterday maintained the corporation did not have authorisation to release the report.
Mr Rollins also refused to confirm the value of BPL’s claim to insurers JS Johnson, which is backed by an international consortium.
“I don’t have any comment to make concerning the report. We’re awaiting permission to release the report,” Mr Rollins said.
The Tribune asked whether BPL has pursued any disciplinary action or changes to protocols following the September 2018 fires.
“No employees, no,” said Mr Rollins. “It wasn’t seen as an act of sabotage.”
Yesterday, Mr Davis questioned whether the report was being withheld to protect the interests of an individual or individuals at the expense of the Bahamian people.
“I have not seen the report,” Mr Davis said. “I was not briefed on the report, the only thing I was told on the report was that they didn’t want to make it public because it may compromise negotiations with insurers.
“I respected that, but there are several claims in the public domain now and if it ain’t true then they should respond to it.”
The first fire broke out at the plant around 10.30pm Friday, September 7, and the second blaze erupted Sunday, September 9, shortly before 10pm.
Two more fires occurred over the course of the following week, one at the Clifton site, and the other at BPL’s Blue Hills location.
The first blaze wrought unprecedented damage to the Clifton Pier station, forcing a weeklong load shedding exercise in the capital, and an urgent appeal to the public for energy conservation to assist the electricity provider in meeting energy demands.
Yesterday, Mr Rollins maintained the loss of those two engines, a combined 60mw, necessitated a $95m emergency generation investment - resulting in a variation of the Shell North America deal for an integrated LNG gas-to-power project.
BPL and Shell North America inked a memorandum of understanding for the project in early November 2018, and the road to a completed power purchase agreement (PPA) was estimated to take around three to four months.
“We told Shell we need to do something in the interim. They helped us select Wartsila, and then we negotiated and got them,” Mr Rollins said.
In March, Whitney Heastie, BPL’s chief executive, told Tribune Business the company will likely take an equity ownership interest in Shell’s new power plant in return for its $95m generation overhaul.
Mr Rollins yesterday told The Tribune the acquisition was financed with the company’s capital works budget, which had now been exhausted. The Tribune has requested BPL’s latest audited financial statements, however, Mr Rollins said those documents have not yet been tabled in Parliament despite being completed.
The installation of seven new Wärtsilä tri-fuel generation engines represents 132megawatts of power, and the plans outlined for Shell’s LNG gas-to-power project featured a 220-250 megawatt power plant.
In June, a Shell spokesperson told The Tribune the project was progressing.
“We continue to work closely with Bahamas Power & Light and the government of the Bahamas to ensure this project moves forward as planned,” the spokesperson said.
“Because we’re currently in confidential business negotiations with various parties we’re not able to provide more details at this time. We look forward to sharing more information when we are in a position to do so.”
Yesterday, Mr Rollins confirmed negotiations with Shell over its PPA have been moving forward favourably, adding he was confident the teams would be able to deliver on public assurances of reduced bills and stable electricity.
Meanwhile, the country has entered its third week of scheduled load shedding as the company struggles to get more assets online.
BPL expects to add five megawatts of rental generation for New Providence next month, according to BPL Director of Public Relations Quincy Parker, who confirmed 17 of the 20 megawatts of new rental generation on New Providence have been installed.
For his part, Mr Davis said he wrote to Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis raising concerns about the arrangements with Shell and Wartsila, and the handling of its voluntary separation packages.
“I think heads must roll at that institution,” Mr Davis said yesterday, “even if it goes right straight to the top. They are obviously out of their depth. . .that might be the core of the problem we are having today.”
Mr Davis continued: “This is not about us criticising what they are doing or not doing because clearly they are not looking at the interest of the Bahamian people, and clearly they had no plan as to addressing what I call the legacy issues that impact the delivery of reliable and affordable electricity to the Bahamian public.
“There was a plan in place (under the Christie administration), a plan that was working, a plan that was producing reliable service to the Bahamian people, that was producing affordable service to the people that was undergirded by a performance based agreement with Power Secure.”
Mr Davis said the Power Secure deal guaranteed reliability and affordability because the company’s performance determined their profits. The Minnis administration ended the government’s relationship with Power Secure, an American company, in late 2017.
Mr Davis also pointed to legislative reform undertaken by the previous administration with the new Electricity Act 2015 and Rate Reduction Bond Act.