The approximately 130,000 Barbados Light & Power Company Ltd (BL&P) customers were left without electricity for most of Monday, following an island-wide blackout that started around 7:29 a.m. and led to the early closure of schools and several businesses by midday.
Barbados Light & Power (BL&P) later blamed the outage on contaminated fuel compounded by aging generator equipment, half of which is past its “retirement age”.
Although restoration began just over an hour after the power outage started, up until 3 p.m. as officials provided an update, only about 50 per cent of the power had been restored, and officials said they were expecting full restoration “by late afternoon, post 6 o’clock”. However, customers were reporting intermittent service while others remained without service for close to 15 hours.
Speaking to members of the media via conference call, Managing Director of the BL&P Roger Blackman said the problem was mainly due to contamination in the imported fuel.
Full return came around 11:10 p.m.
Apologizing to customers for the outage and the inconvenience, he explained that the fault originated at a substation adjacent to the company’s Spring Garden Generation plant and a team was able to isolate the issue.
“During the restoration effort, some of our generators experienced challenges similar to what we encountered last week. We have fuel equipment issues on two of our largest generators, which is delaying full restoration. Those two units we had fuel pump challenges and we have been having discussions with our fuel suppliers with relation to addressing that issue,” said Blackman.
Without identifying the contaminant that was found in the fuel, Blackman further explained that of the samples tested from the last three shipments, two of them “tested positive for contaminants”.
He explained that there was still “quite a bit of fuel in the system now” that will be used up, adding that the shipment that is currently on island to be used is free of contamination.
“That will dilute what we currently have in the system. We have been managing this for the last couple weeks and what we will be doing is having our teams in place to do the repairs very quickly and get the units back on when they are affected. We do have things in place to address the issues when they come up,” said Blackman, who was unable to guarantee there would be no more blackouts as a result of contaminated fuel.
He said testing was now being conducted on fuel samples going back as far as August to see if this contaminant that has been detected would have been present at that time.
He said the BL&P was working with the island’s fuel supplier, the Barbados National Oil Company Ltd (BNOCL), to put measures in place to resolve the issue over the short and medium-term.
“We know that it would be a challenge for BNOCL as well because it is not fuel that is produced in Barbados, it is imported. So there will be a need to follow up with those suppliers that we rely on externally,” he said.
“Right now our focus is on addressing the issue and ensuring that we restore the reliability levels to adequate levels,” he added.
The power outage on Monday was also blamed for water outages across the island, which forced the closure of schools and businesses.
Blackman said he acknowleged the frequency and severity of the power outages, while giving the assurance that the BL&P was working closely with the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) to ensure that water was at least back on in the more heavily-populated areas.
The BL&P boss explained that investigations were ongoing in relation to the fuel challenges to determine what corrective measures need to be taken.
“Until that is fully resolved we are in a delicate situation with that plant (Spring Garden),” said Blackman.
The affected units represent about 70 per cent of the utility’s total generation, which make it even more critical for the issues to be ironed out quickly so that reliability can be fully restored.
In addition to the fuel contamination, Blackman acknowledged that an aging generation plant was “a part of the issue”. He pointed out that “Right now about 50 per cent of our generating capacity has passed its retirement age and that certainly is a factor.”
He said the aging units made it more challenging to forecast the outrage rates resulting in a longer time for restoration to occur.
He further pointed out that the reason the company was not investing in replacement of the generator plants was simply because the country was moving to a 100 per cent renewable energy, which the company supported. BL&P would therefore be retiring all its fuel plants by 2030.
He gave the assurance that customers should not expect any rate increase as a result of any loss to the company from the outages and challenges related to the fuel, saying there was no connection to the outages and any rate increase.