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Aug 30, 2002

B.E.L. responds to concerns about gas turbines

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Blackouts are something Belizeans have had to grow accustomed to, but the inconvenience of it continues to be bothersome. On Thursday, Belize Electricity Limited and General Electric Package Power Incorporated signed a contract to purchase a gas turbine generator set. The machine promises to boost B.E.L.’s energy supply and provide backup power. However, residents of mile eight have certain reservations about the machine’s installation and the impact it will have on their community. This evening Derek Davis, B.E.L.’s Vice President of Energy Supply, took Jacqueline Woods on a tour of the area.

Derek Davis, Vice President, B.E.L. Energy Supply

“B.E.L. cannot afford at this time to be in a position where we’re short of capacity for another year. We’re already faced with this ongoing problem with the foreign environmentalists over Chalillo and we’re at the situation where we’re in a capacity crunch. Effectively we went ahead purchasing the machine, knowing that we have to get the environmental permit for the site. If obviously we don’t get it, then we have to find another site. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that we do need the machine.”

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

The proposed site for the gas turbine generator is located just behind B.E.L.’s West Sub Station in the declared Light Industrial Area at mile eight on the Western Highway. Vice President of BEL’s Energy Supply, Derek Davis says the machine will do more than just increase B.E.L.’s limited backup supply capacity.

Derek Davis

“First of all, for peaking power whereby our peak period occurs from approximately 6:00 to 9:00 in the evenings and our alternative is to buy expensive power from Mexico. In effect, the energy from this unit would replace that expensive power. Also, in the dry season when we have low hydrology from the hydro plant, we even need power in the day. So for those two reasons we actually need a back-up peaking power for the system. Secondly, we need the unit for emergency back-up to allow us to do maintenance outages for lets say the Mexican supply, the hydro supply, our diesel’s et cetera. And lastly, we need the unit to improve our ability to restore the system in a reasonable time, should there be problems. For example, presently if there is a problem where the grid system goes down, it takes us one hour and a half to two hours to restore the system because of the small machines that we have. With this one large unit, it would take ten to fifteen minutes.”

Because the site is near to a residential area, people are concerned that once installed, the machine would generate a lot of noise and pollution in their community.

Derek Davis

“Based on the analysis we have done to date, it is suggested that for example, noise should not be a problem. A vehicle passing on the road would have more of a noise impact on the area than the turbine. Smoke emissions also would not be a problem. We have done computer modelling of the emissions to see the concentrations and that is well below the required standards. So, the initial indications from our environmental consultants are it should not be a problem. This technology is ideal for this type of application. In the United States, worldwide, these units are located next to hospitals, next to airports, next to buildings, next to residences and it’s done worldwide.”

Davis says because the site is the central point of B.E.L.’s national grid, they had to pick a site that would allow them to quickly restore power to most of their customers in the event of a major loss of electricity.

Derek Davis

“Firstly, the transmissions system, whereby we have three links that come into this one spot. It’s kind of the hub of the system. We have a line coming from the hydro plant, Mollejon, we have a line coming from Mexico, and we have a line that feeds into Belize. And we have a fourth that also goes across to Ladyville. Now if we in effect have this turbine hooked into this point, then anyone of those supplies goes down, we can supply the other three. So from that perspective, it’s ideal from a technical perspective.

The other reason why it’s ideal is because it’s near to the major commercial load centre of the country, which is Belize City and Ladyville. For example, in a hurricane should we lose the transmission lines et cetera, just at this site, we would be able to supply the commercial load centre, which is the airport, the port, all the communications system et cetera very quickly. And the unit is right here and we would be able to supply fully that load. And this is fifty percent of the country’s power demand.”

The generator, which is valued at eight point eight million U.S. dollars, should be installed in June of next year. Reporting for News 5, Jacqueline Woods.

B.E.L. says a full Environmental Impact Assessment will be conducted in June to determine what effect the gas turbine will have on the environment at mile eight. However, they emphasise that initial reports from E.I.A. consultants are that there will be no adverse effects to the area.

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