Opinion – Montserrat’s Electricity Problems: Complete Nonsense

In a recent ZJB interview, MUL representatives continued the claim the island’s power needs are so unique that a design-and-build approach had to be used in the recently purchased genset and the yet to be purchased gensets.
This is the same thinking that led the British taxpayer to fund the design and creation of a police patrol boat at a far greater price than a similar new “off-the-shelf”, or dare I say used boat, for a craft that spends most of its time at anchor.
There are thousands of standalone electrical systems throughout small islands. (The islands of the Philippines for example have 327 stand-alone systems.)
Buying off-the-shelf, standardized equipment from major global suppliers ensures easy availability of parts and expertise. Montserrat decision-makers were allowed to believe no one in the world understood our unique challenges and that only design-and-build would meet our needs. What nonsense; and now we are suffering through needless parts and expertise delays and immeasurable cost and inconvenience.
There are several electrical engineers on island—me included—who have run multi-megawatt generating equipment across distributed locations where these failures were not an option.
Imagine a war-ship without power for 30 seconds with incoming missiles and no radar to lock on the target! I can tell you from first-hand experience that power outages or fluctuations are not tolerated, no matter how brief.
Any of the electrical engineers on the island can tell you synchronization “problems” are solely a factor of the rotation of the “prime mover”, in this case, a diesel engine. No one cares if you are generating at 58 or 62 Hertz. Slow one diesel down or speed the other up. It is that simple. And during the “Cold War” in the 1970s, we did this without any digital electronics. None.
MUL offering to discuss equipment destroyed by poor decisions and training conveniently ignores the cost of restaurants failing to meet their obligations, revenue streams and employee pay-checks from regular and catered events. Some restaurants apologized for not being able to make birthday cakes as they were unable to work with warm cream, and at other times closed entirely. Patrons generally do not go out for meals during a blackout since they understand the restaurant has no power as well. Workers are not paid when businesses are forced to close.
How many people were baking when the power failed? How many people were trying to conduct business on-line? How many people were using tools? How many elderly people cooked in their flats and homes when the fans stopped running? Does MUL and the GoM think these are minor issues that do not warrant their attention, and that in-time, perhaps in months or years, the problems will be resolved.
The GoM has stood before the UN to claim how “green” the island is yet routinely charges duty and consumption tax on solar systems at unjust rates (cost of equipment + US taxes + US shipping + international shipping + insurance on shipping) while providing tax and duty free concessions to those in the Osborne “racing club” with duty-free status of up to $5,000 per year on everything from parts to entire engines for street-licensed cars until June 2026 (SRO 35 of 2021).

To add insult to injury, while the GoM boasts of their “green” credentials, Customs officials are allowed to make up rules on-the-fly regarding duty on the import of green-energy products, seemingly based on who is importing. In a recent decision by these officials, only people who live in Isles Bay are allowed concessions on solar electric. However, there is no such legislation anywhere and these employees are left by executive leadership to make up these harmful rules—complete lack of oversight.
Green energy components and systems, like storm shutters and other disaster preparedness equipment, are not luxury items that should be taxed while “performance” car parts remain duty-free for people that race along our streets and through our school zones.
In the past, MUL employees have stated they don’t encourage green-energy since this reduces their revenue from monthly electric bills.
Are you listening GoM? It is not the responsibility of Montserratians to ensure MUL and Delta Petroleum turn a profit while enduring this horribly unreliable electrical system created through misguided decision-making.
Action Required by the GoM:
1. Ensure ALL associated costs of green-energy components remain duty and consumption tax free. (Of course the alternative is to fully reimburse businesses for revenue losses and citizens for complete equipment replacement at cost. (Offering duty-free concessions but forcing one to replace a relatively new piece of equipment is not a “deal”.)
2. Ensure future expenditures on electrical generation use standardized off-the-shelf solutions from global vendors with support staff in the Caribbean or Florida.
3. Hire, do not train, experienced people with a history in working with generation equipment. By training current personnel you are discounting the value of years of experience that a training course can NEVER match.
4. Ensure air conditioners are turned off prior to initiating rolling-blackouts in an effort to load share. For the past 15 years, computer equipment has been engineered to work at higher ambient temperatures in an effort to reduce energy consumption for cooling.
5. Read and follow the Building Standards within the Physical Development Plan. The new GoM buildings violate all the standards related to energy efficiency (i.e. covered hallways around exterior of building to shade from the sun and situated in such a way as to benefit from prevailing winds negating the need for air conditioning, high ceilings with ventilation windows —like transoms—near ceiling, etc.). The current buildings are designed for cold northern latitudes and as they violate “appropriate building design” in Appendix A “Development Standards”, should never have been approved. Again, no oversight.
And no, it is not the customer’s fault for not ensuring power protection devices are installed and replaced with each power surge. We have paid for, and deserve, a reliable electric supply.

David McKeand