Stable power supply in Berbice can't yet be guaranteed
-Robin Singh to be new general manager of GPL
By Daniel Da Costa
Stabroek News
April 27, 2003

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Despite high expectations among Berbicians that Friday's visit to East Berbice by Prime Minister Sam Hinds would signal some assurance of reliability of power in the future, no such guarantees were forthcoming. At the heart of the power company's perennial problems in the region is the urgent need for additional generation capacity. At the moment Guyana Power and Light Inc has the capacity to generate approximately 16-17 megawatts of electricity in East and West Berbice if all its available sets are operable. However peak demand is estimated at around 15 megawatts during the rice crop season which according to Hinds "is not enough margin... we need a bit more room, we have been running too tight."

Meanwhile, Hinds disclosed that Robin Singh has been designated Manager of GPL from May 1 and Bharrat Dindial, Chief Operations Officer. Two expatriate officers including the Chief Financial Officer are expected to remain for another three months.

Both East and West Berbicians were hit without notice last Thursday and Friday by widespread and prolonged periods of outages following the breakdown of the vital No.4 Mirrlees Blackstone Alternator and one of three mobile Caterpillar Sets at the Canefield Plant. The problem also disrupted potable water supply to several communities across both East and West Berbice since the Guyana Water Inc utilises electrical pumps at all of its installations.

However, yesterday there was some improvement as the No.4 Unit was eased back into service. The Prime Minister has also promised that a third mobile Caterpillar Set will be dispatched to the No. 53 Sub-station by Friday, providing an additional 1.5 megawatts to the supply system.

Speaking to reporters at a press briefing at State House in New Amsterdam at the end of the visit, one of the new directors on the company's board, Narvon Persaud explained that work is continuing on the 69 KV transmission line to bring it back into service. He however noted that "everything has to be running at full clip to try and keep the system on line all the time and this is where the rough edges come in because you have no leeway. Once a set goes down, problems will arise." The Prime Minister said however he was satisfied that arrangements are being put in place to improve the supply of electricity in the region and in particular Corriverton. Yet he cautioned "for a good stable supply something significant would have to be done. The No.3 Unit which has been out of operation for some 8-12 months would have to be brought into service to have extra generation/room. However we have to pay some prices to ensure a staple supply of electricity."

According to Hinds, some US$700,000 (G$140 million) is required to repair the No.3 Unit which will provide an additional 5 megawatts of power to the region. "At this time GPL would need to have money... at least that US$700,000 to put the unit back into operation." According to Persaud, "One of our first inputs would be to get the No.3 Unit back on stream again but that is 6-8 months down the road because the finances must be found then the whole process of procuring spares and having the job done. Finances also have to be found to execute maintenance works on the existing sets."

Asked how soon the money could be acquired to effect the repairs in the light of the precarious state of the system and whether the Government would be willing to provide it, Hinds said, "the new board would have to address the cost of refurbishing the No.3 Unit... In the first instance it is a matter for the board and management to address." Persaud's response was "We have a backlog of maintenance works which have built up because of inadequate funds. The first task will be to review and prioritise these works and then see how we can source finances for the programme." No time frame or commitment was therefore given or made from the acquisition of the funds to repair the much-needed No.3 Unit.

When asked about the proposal made by the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UCCC&I) to take over the company's Berbice operations, the Prime Minister replied: "There can be some advantages in such ideas and the main one is that more people will come face to face with the real cost of providing an electricity service. There are however some things that will go less well with that approach, including certain economies of scale which will be lost. We would keep the proposal under consideration but at this time I do not see it as the way forward. I think it may modify our arrangements so we have some form of management groups in each region."

Guyanese are however being urged to invest in GPL since according to Hinds "many people will not come running to invest in Guyana from abroad. I do not readily see another foreign investment group coming to invest in GPL."

The Prime Minister also signalled his intention to push a proposal for pension schemes and insurance companies to form a consortium and "make the investment in GPL and take up a majority position since they are major sources of investment." According to Hinds, "We must recognise that holding down prices for electricity below what is required will not be an answer since I feel we are now running too close."

Prices for electricity in Guyana he argued are below "the mid-line for Caribbean countries even though the costs are similar or even higher in Guyana. We have to appeal for time to take more substantial steps to improve the electricity supply since this will require substantial money, bills being paid and commercial losses which are at around 40 per cent reduced."

During his visit Hinds toured the Canefield Power Plant and the No 53 Sub-station, met with residents at Maida/Tarlogie on the Corentyne, the Upper Corentyne Chamber and the Corriverton Town Council, the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and representatives of the Association of Regional Chambers of Commerce at State House. Meanwhile the power company is likely to continue walking a tightrope in the near future with its present generation capacity until the G$140 million is found to refurbish the No 3 Unit leaving Berbicians in frustrating limbo over the reliability of power supply.

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