Hinds checks power problem in Berbice
Four sets to be leased from US company
Blackouts to continue in short term By Daniel Da Costa
Stabroek News
October 29, 2003

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Prime Minister Sam Hinds yesterday visited Berbice to check the worsening power supply situation there and announced that four caterpillar sets are to be leased from the US to ease the problem.

Accompanied by GPL Chairman Ronald Alli and Chief Operations Officer Bharrat Dindial, Hinds met with the business community to address the troublesome electricity situation.

The ongoing spate of blackouts which plagued Berbicians on both sides of the river for several weeks now climaxed on Monday night with a series of outages throughout the day and night at regular intervals. The situation has disrupted the lives and livelihoods of almost every consumer across East and West Berbice. The problem was worsened by a setback with the key No.4 Mirrlees generating unit at Canefield, which, according to Dindial was “not machine-related”. However, Stabroek News understands that the problem was of an electrical nature.

Speaking with reporters at State House in New Amsterdam yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Hinds said four new Caterpillar generating sets with a capacity of approximately 1.2 megawatts each are to being leased from a company in Miami. The sets, he said, are being leased at a cost of US$45,000 each per month with GPL providing fuel and covering operational costs.

According to Alli, the sets are expected to be installed and operational by the third week in November, injecting another 4.8 megawatts (approx.) into the system. Within another two weeks, he said, another two mobile sets are expected back in operation in the region, which will bring to seven the number of Caterpillar sets available.

At the moment the Berbice Inter-connected System is being serviced by the ailing No. 4 Mirrlees set with a capacity of 4.5 megawatts and three Caterpillar sets at Canefield and one mobile set at No.53 sub-station. At Onverwagt the two Caterpillar sets are also out of operation and are not likely to return to service until another two to three weeks, according to Hinds.

He also disclosed that yesterday morning only four of nine Caterpillar sets in the system were operational. The No. 4 unit, he said, had been returned to service by midday yesterday but consumers were still experiencing widespread outages.

According to Alli, some 11 megawatts were available in the system yesterday afternoon, but the peak demand was around 14 megawatts leaving a shortfall of approximately three megawatts.

He noted that seven of the nine Caterpillar sets in the system should be operational within another two weeks. According to Alli, the No.4 Mirrlees unit which is some 11,000 hours behind its maintenance schedule is expected to be pulled out of service by Sunday, and will undergo a six-week period of repairs. During this time the system which includes East and West Berbice will be serviced by the nine Caterpillar sets with a total generating capacity of some 10 megawatts. The General Motors unit at Onverwagt which has a capacity of some 2.5 megawatts and which has been out of service for sometime is also expected back in operation within another two weeks.

Asked whether the high-speed Caterpillar sets initially intended to operate as “back-up” would be able to sustain the system with a peak demand of some 14 megawatts, Dindial said they will be supported by the GM set at Onverwagt when it returns in another two weeks and the No. 4 Mirrlees unit which will still be in operation during the peak period, although it will be undergoing repairs. There are serious fears among consumers however that the Caterpillar sets would be unable to withstand the rigours of the system. Yesterday morning only four out of nine Caterpillar sets were in operation in the system supplying a mere one-third of the power company’s consumers.

Hinds further disclosed that arrangements are being finalised for the purchase of another 4-5 megawatt unit for Canefield and this is expected to arrive in the country within another five to six months. The Prime Minister also alluded to fuel being stolen from plants in the region and sold while adulterated fuel was being substituted by persons within and outside of the company. This, he said, may have contributed in some way to the problems being experienced with sets in the region.

Hinds and Alli acknowledged that load-shedding will continue over the coming weeks until the system is in a position to supply approximately 14 megawatts. Dindial explained that some parts will be taken from the No.3 Mirrlees unit which has been out of service for almost two years to rehabilitate the No.4 unit.

A decision, he said, has not yet been taken on the fate of the No.3 unit, which requires repairs expected to cost some US$600,000 ($140 million).

However, if the seven sets would be operational, according to Alli, within another two weeks, only four of them would be functioning when the No.4 Mirrlees is taken out this weekend. This would mean that there would only be approximately 10 megawatts available in the system for at least one week until the other three mobile sets return to service in another two weeks. The shortfall is therefore expected to be around 4 megawatts at peak time.

Meanwhile both the Berbice and Upper Corentyne Chambers of Commerce have called on the government to take immediate steps to alleviate the situation. The Association of Regional Chambers of Commerce is expected to meet in Georgetown today to discuss the situation.

Stabroek News understands that some members of the Upper Corentyne Cham-ber had suggested that a protest be staged to press home their concerns over the situation.