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Jul 15, 2009

P.U.C. prepares for countrywide power outages

Story PictureBelizeans are on edge on the question of whether there will be countrywide blackouts. And that’s what the Public Utilities Commission attempted to answer at its press conference this afternoon. Consumers use up to seventy-four megawatts of electricity during peak hours and loss of power from Hydro-Maya, B.E.L.’s gas turbine and Mexico can put the entire country in the dark. And while they are often at odds, today P.U.C. Chairman John Avery outlined the developments that have the country’s power supplier, B.E.L. along with the government, actively seeking to purchase power from alternative sources other than Mexico.

John Avery, Chairman, Public Utilities Commission
“B.E.L. was asked to remove its turbine from service, which significantly reduced the amount of capacity we have in Belize. Then a week on the sixth of July, C.F.E. informed B.E.L. that a certain plant in Yucatan had to be taken out of service for five days to be inspected and depending on that inspection, they may need to take it out of service for another twenty days if any service was required. As a result of that, they informed B.E.L. that during that period they wouldn’t be able to supply power in any form to B.E.L. They intended to start the inspection on the fifteenth of July, which is today and if any repairs are necessary they’ll start those I think on the twentieth. Then on July tenth Hydro Maya, which is a hydro facility in the southern part of the country, they supply B.E.L. with three to three and a half megawatts of power. They suffered some mechanical problems on their generating turbine at their facility. So we lost with the B.E.L.’s gas turbine and hydro Maya about twenty-three to twenty-five megawatts of capacity in Belize. The potential loss from Mexico is up to fifty megawatts. The customers’ peak demand on B.E.L.’s system is about seventy-three to seventy-four megawatts. So as you can see, if we lose Mexico completely with those two local sources out, we would have been short of eighteen to twenty megawatts of capacity in country and B.E.L. would have been forced to start load shedding.”

“We have done a little to help the situation, in the sense that the minister has entered into agreement with B.E.L. and Belize Aqua Culture Limited. Belize Aqua Culture Limited at this time has a power purchase agreement to supply B.E.L. with ten megawatts of capacity and energy but they have an additional eight megawatts available and so the minister has entered into a temporary agreement with B.E.L. and BAL to access that additional eight megawatts of capacity. Earlier I told you we would have a shortfall of twenty megawatts and actually this would increase to about ten to twelve megawatts.”

But despite the additional supply of power from Belize Aquaculture Limited, both B.E.L. and the government have been negotiating with C.F.E. to provide the country with the minimum power supply. But this means that during this time, the Mexicans may supply some power at a higher rate. B.E.L.’s gas turbine, when the repairs are finished, would also produce electricity at a higher cost. But Avery contends that there is a safety net that might protect utility bills from increasing. Still, Mexico is the country’s largest supplier and if it needs to, it can still pull the plug at anytime.

John Avery, Chairman, P.U.C.
“As long as Mexico has to take anybody off their system, we are kinda first in line. They will not have blackouts in their country if they can prevent that by cutting us off. And when I say cut us off, our system, to some extent, needs to be connected to Mexico physically. It’s just that they would instruct us not to take any power from their system. We have absolutely no idea from hour to hour if or when C.F.E. will say listen “you have to stop taking power from us at this time.” They, actually in their first notice told B.E.L. that “you wouldn’t be getting any power during this period.” It’s only through negotiations that they have come back now and said, “well, listen we’ve tried now to be able to give at least the minimum that you will require to keep your system up.” But they are still advising that “We can still call you at anytime and tell you need to get off the system.”

“We had made a decision in February, where we had reduced the cost of power component of the rates. B.E.L. made a successful application in the court to put an injunction on that and so the cost of power component of the rates right now is set at the rate we used in June of 2008. At the time, the price of oil was above one hundred and thirty-five US dollars a barrel and so right now the cost of power, the legally enforceable cost is high. So over the months B.E.L. has been collecting more for power than it has been spending. Based on our last evaluation for the end of May, the net is about twenty-four million dollars. Even with increased costs it will not necessarily result in any direct increase in rates.”

Avery says that the parts for B.E.L.’s gas turbine have arrived in the country and the G.E. technicians and if all goes well, the repairs should be completed and the turbine should be back online by the end of next week. And just in, B.E.L. tells News Five that C.F.E. continues to supply fifteen percent of the local energy demand as indicated and can continue to so do at this level. Unless there is a change in this situation with C.F.E., B.E.L. says we do not have to expect rotation outages.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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