While the power supply has been somewhat stable over the past week, with very brief outages, officials at the power company said that there are still major issues which they are working to rectify.
In a candid radio interview with Keyola Greene of ZJB Radio Montserrat, Joseph Ryan, Electrical Manager at Montserrat Utilities Ltd. and Owen Lewis, a MUL Board member assigned to deal with the technical team handling the electricity interruptions, said there are several factors which are slowing down the return to normal power supply to all customers.
Lewis apologised for the interruptions over the past six to eight weeks which he called excessive and assured the public that finding both short and long term solutions was the priority of MUL and the Government of Montserrat.
Ryan explained that the #7 engine, which is the newest engine on the grid is experiencing synchronizing problems. The engine is operational but unable to connect electronically to the other generators to boost the supply. The high-speed engine was purchased in 2016 after a similar set of outages.
Lewis said the technicians who work on this engine are primarily based in SouthEast Asia and with COVID-19 and other travel issues, it will be at least another two months before someone can visit the island to look at the generator. Meantime, the MUL team are attempting to resolve the issues with the assistance of the head office in Belgium, working via video conferencing to offer advice.
The other engine which is down is #6. This mid-speed engine is part of the commissioned power station and was taken offline for scheduled maintenance overhaul. MUL has on two occasions received parts to complete the maintenance but they were incorrect. They are still working to source the correct part. Overseas technicians are also needed to assist with the maintenance.
The two newest generators being offline places the burden on the older generators which is creating the power supply shortages, explained Ryan.
MUL currently has five generators in use #3, #4, #5, #6 and #7.
The MUL representatives explained that on a normal basis, staff rotate the generator sets. At least two gensets are needed to power the island. Because #6 and #7 are down, it means that #4 and #5 are being run excessively. As these are the oldest generators, it also means that issues arise frequently. Another complication is that #3 only synchronises with #7 which means it is not able to support the current power strain.
Presently, the MUL technicians have scheduled planned maintenance between 1AM to 4AM as most people are asleep and the least disruptive time for the public.
Government Support of Long Term Solution
Lewis said he is in daily communication with government officials at the Ministry of Communications, Works, Energy and Labour on the matter. He has also spoken with Premier Joseph Farrell who has given assurances that the government is ready to assist to resolve the power supply disruptions.
Colin Fergus, who is the MCWEL Permanent Secretary and Chairman of the MUL board has briefed the Cabinet on the matter.
“Two of our main assets are down at the same time is unusual,” Lewis stated.
Discussions now centre around whether it is time to retire the older generators and purchase new ones, which can work in tandem with the 1MW solar power plant, and future geothermal production. Lewis said new generators is not a short term fix as they take nine to 12 months to procure and build to specifications.
He acknowledged that MUL must do a better job in communicating to the public. A focal point to communicate when incidents arise has been identified. They are currently working to put the improvements in place to communicate in a timely manner with the public.
Aside from the frustration of frequent power cuts and lack of information from the electricity supplier, residents and business owners have been complaining of the damage to their appliances and equipment due to the unscheduled shutdowns. The MUL officials recommend that the public switch off main supplies when they hear/see the power fluctuations. Lewis added that surge protectors for home appliances are also a good idea.
For people who can show that the electrical outages have damaged their appliances, they are invited to complete a claim form at the MUL office. Currently, Lewis said, management is working to see how best to deal with the claims related to the ongoing outages.