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Feb 26, 2002

Mexican failure turns out lights in Belize

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If you had trouble watching last night’s newscast, don’t feel bad, we had just as much trouble producing it. The problem was electricity–or more accurately, the lack of it. When the lights came on this morning, News 5′s Janelle Chanona tried to find out what went wrong.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

At approximately 5:30 Monday evening when a breaker at a major power substation in Mexico failed, an estimated five million people in southern Mexican states and most of Belize experienced a blackout that lasted several hours.

Michael Polonio

“Power supply was lost to the entire states of Oaxaca, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Tabasco and Chiapas, so six states were out of power. And Belize being connected to that grid also lost supply to the entire grid, which is from Dangriga, San Ignacio, Belmopan, Belize City, Orange Walk, Corozal and San Pedro.”

According to representatives at Belize Electricity Limited, as the nation waited in darkness, engineers rushed to fire up back-up generators and draw power from the Mollejon hydro plant.

Michael Polonio

“Once we had Mollejon on line at about 7:30, we were able to restore power to San Ignacio, Belmopan, Dangriga, a portion of Belize City, a portion of San Pedro. But those were the only areas that the two turbines that were available could supply at the time. In situations like that, you find that the system is fairly still unstable and delicate and shortly after we had restored service to those areas one of the turbines overloaded and triggered off another series out outages. But we quickly reacted and had power back to those areas that we could sustain by 8:30.”

Mexican officials have still not made public what caused the breaker to trip, but they had restored power by 10:30, and one by one the lights came back on in Belize. But the outage highlights Belize’s heavy dependence on the imported energy and our vulnerability to similar problems in Mexico.

Michael Polonio

“We do not have enough in country backup when we lose power from Mexico. That would definitely provoke outages at any time until we’ve firmed up our in country supply. We will continue to buy power from Mexico as long as that power is the most economical, obviously for the benefit of consumers. But we’re talking as well about reliability of supply, and the second issue is cost of supply. From a reliability perspective, we need to address that issue, we need to have enough power in country to meet the forty-five plus megawatt current demand, which grows at ten to fifteen percent every year. And that makes a case of course for why we have develop the storage facility at Chalillo in order to allow Mollejon to be reliable a hundred percent of the time.”

Until that time, the energy company says it will continue to look into alternative energy sources such as hydropower, gas turbines and co-generation to avoid lengthy blackouts. Reporting for News 5, I am Janelle Chanona.

The last major B.E.L. blackout occurred in March 2001, due to similar problems in Mexico. At that time, it took the better part of a week for Mexico to restore full power to the Belize line.

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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