By YOURI KEMP and
Tribune Business Reporters
Electricity supply restoration to east Grand Bahama was yesterday branded "a chicken and egg situation" as the island's utility eyes potential solutions that will slash its costs by 50 percent.
K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minster and the area's MP, told reporters that the provision of energy to the Dorian-ravaged area was in a "holding pattern" with discussions ongoing between the government and Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC) over the best way forward. He did, though, express optimism that a temporary solution will be achieved "relatively soon".
"We are in discussions with the Grand Bahama Power Company about exactly how and when we might be able to restore power to the east end of the island," Mr Turnquest said. "There is a bit of a chicken and the egg situation, where the Power Company is waiting for population density and the people are waiting for the power in order to begin the construction and the reconstruction.
"So we are in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment. However, the power company has committed to provide some temporary solutions. Hopefully very shortly we will see some temporary generators that will be spotted in these communities to power the individual communities, rather than running the main transmission line from the main power plant in Freeport, which is very costly.
"So that is the intended temporary solution, and hopefully we will be able to get that done relatively soon. I don't have a timeline unfortunately."
A report produced for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) by the Washington DC-based consultancy, ERM, reveals that GB Power has "no intention" of investing $8m to rebuild the transmission line that previously ran from Freeport to East End because it will never get a return on its investment.
The area's population and electricity consumer numbers, which were relatively thin prior to Dorian, have been thinned out even more by the category five storm's devastation. The report, which has been obtained by Tribune Business, reveals that the utility is waiting to determine how many persons return to the area - and where they settle - before deploying renewable energy microgrid solutions.
Dave McGregor, GB Power's chief executive, has previously confirmed that the island's utility monopoly is looking at such installations, which the IDB report estimated would cost $3.75m and be 50 percent less than the price tag to rebuild the former transmission line.
"The 33kV (kilovolt) transmission line from Freeport to East Grand Bahama that runs for approximately 40km (kilometres) to a substation, which then steps to lower distribution voltage, is completely destroyed along with associated distribution lines," the report for the IDB confirmed.
"The privately-owned Grand Bahama Power Company has no intention to rebuild it given that the estimated cost is $8m. It is still uncertain how many consumers will eventually return and rebuild their houses or other assets, nor is there is information about future peak load in each town/settlement.
"The proposed solution to re-establish electricity supply is by deploying several micro grids in the area consisting of combinations of solar generation and battery storages."
The IDB said the "implementation cost of $3.75m will be funded" through a new energy sector loan facility it is making available to The Bahamas in Dorian's wake, part of which will be dedicated to the post-Dorian reconstruction. A further $200,000 "would be dedicated to feasibility studies for the micro grids".
Mr Turnquest yesterday appeared to soften his stance considerably in comparison to his December position, when he told GB Power to either quickly restore services to the entire island or hand over the responsibility to the Government as he complained about having restless nights sleeping in his constituency.
He said: "Ultimately we were looking towards making these communities solar powered, a self-sufficient, self-sustaining power grid. Again, the timeline on that we are not sure of at the moment.
"But we are also looking at the possibility of finding some kind of funding mechanism where we are able to have individual solar solutions on individual roof-tops as stand alone units, which may be even more quicker in terms of being able to get them installed and getting people some kind of power to their properties."
Mr Turnquest added: "So all of these solutions are being worked on and discussed at the moment. Unfortunately I do not have the exact timeline for that at the moment. But we are working feverishly towards it as we are with respect to water, and trying to get the water company up and running to provide fresh potable water so people can do what they have to do."
Speaking directly to how many residents are currently being impacted by having no electricity, Mr Turnquest said: "Roughly the whole area is about 1,500 or so, and if I were to hazard a guess as to how many residents are there now on a continuous basis it's probably around 800. The entire community is without power; I mean the whole of east end including some parts of the Lucaya area."
He assured that residents are "eager" to get back into their homes and communities. "These essential services are critical and are urgent from the community's point of view," Mr Turnquest said.
Gregory LaRoda, Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce president, backed up the contents of the IDB report in an interview with Tribune Business that same month. He said: "The power company has made it clear that they are not going to spend all the money, because almost all of the poles are down between Free Town and the extreme east of the island, which is like a 20-mile stretch, and it is going to cost a substantial investment to put that back.
"So, what the GBPC has asked the Government to do - at least this is what the chief executive has told me - they have asked the Government to give them an idea on which areas of the extreme east they are looking to focus on to repopulate people back in, and what they would do is look at alternative energy up there. They will look at maybe solar generation to supply power to those areas."