Why is Montserrat’s New Generator Smaller Than Current Demand?

Montserrat has been experiencing some uncharacteristic power outages since late 2016 and it is hoped they will soon come to an end, according to officials at the local power company Montserrat Utilities Limited.

On Tuesday, MUL General Manager David Thomson said the new medium speed generator was added to the grid and is handling the majority of the demand. While this generator is still in the test phase, it is hoped that within a month’s time the power cuts will be a thing of the past.

The constant loss of power has been blamed on several high speed generators which have been providing the island’s supply for 20 years, when they were not designed to work for more than a few hours at a time and not daily.

The Government of Montserrat in 2011, signed an agreement with the Caribbean Development Bank for a loan to purchase a 1.5 MW (megawatt) generator and construct a power station, which could be expanded to include an additional generator and also manage the distribution of geothermal energy. The project, experienced several delays, one of which the Hon. Minister of Energy Paul Lewis said on Tuesday during the Legislative Assembly, was a change in supplier for the generator. The contractor changed from a Chinese supplier to a Belgium one, which caused further delays. Lewis has said this has turned out to be to Montserrat’s advantage as they now have a generator of a much higher quality.

The question remains however, why the new generator which can produce up to 1.5MW (megawatts) of electricity was selected when the island’s demand can vary during the year up to about 2.3MW.

Minister Lewis said he “the decision to choose a 1.5MW medium speed generator as part of the new power plant was done under the previous administration the contract was signed in 2013. I am not sure of the thinking back then in making that choice.”

“The present situation will mean that even with the 1.5MW gen set operating on the grid there will still be need to utilize some of the temporary gen sets even though it is most likely to be one temporary set at a time with options to rotate their usage. This will mean the temporary generators will not be running twenty-four- seven without rest.”

The minister explained that to further improve the situation the current administration made the decision to “introduce solar into the energy mix by undertaking a 1MW Utility scaled solar project which will be part of the grid.”

The solar energy project is to be implemented in two stages. Stage 1 calls for 250kw, which is now at the procurement stage funded from European Development Fund EDF10. “The intention is to upgrade to 1MW from the EDF11 programme. That will mean the 1.5MW medium speed and the 1MW solar with storage can take care of the peak loads which occur during the day.”

Aside from intermittent outages to switch generators, Thomson said on local radio, Montserrat should have a fairly stable power supply heading into the St. Patrick’s Festival Week of activities.

We say, keep your candles and flashlights handy.