NV GEBE looking to rent power barge or containerised energy as short-term solution

NV GEBE looking to rent power barge or  containerised energy as short-term solution

A section of the audience at the meeting.

~ Buy 2 to 3 generators for long term ~

PHILIPSBURG--A businesswoman getting dressed in her vehicle to avoid the heat in her home during outages, a medical student’s challenges trying to study in the dark and stories of mothers with newborn babies and the elderly having to shelter from the immense heat in their vehicles were amongst the horror stories shared by consumers during Part I of NV GEBE’s “Candid Conversations” public information series held at University of St. Martin (USM) on Friday.

  During the session, a panel from NV GEBE’s management team comprising Temporary Manager Troy Washington, Distribution Manager Patrick Drijvers, Commercial Department Head Mishlyn Stephen and Assistant Distribution Manager Ramiro Hernandez fielded a barrage of questions from the audience of approximately 60 persons.

While many questions were asked, several focused on the ongoing load-shedding issues and the timeline for a solution to the company’s capacity challenges. GEBE said in a statement on Sunday that it was apparent that this topic was the main area affecting the overall quality of life of residents, tourists visiting the island and the business community in various ways.

  Washington said GEBE is actively exploring the most feasible and cost-effective solutions. While customers are demanding swift resolution, GEBE said these plans require detailed technical evaluations and cost/benefits analyses to ensure that they are compatible with the company’s operational systems, within a reasonable budget.

page7c014eThe GEBE panel that fielded questions from the audience. From left: Temporary Manager Troy Washington, Commercial Department Head Mishlyn Stephen, Distribution Manager Patrick Drijvers and Assistant Distribution Manager Ramiro Hernandez.

For an immediate/short-term solution GEBE revisited an option previously considered, which includes entering a rental agreement for portable electricity generating units. These units, which can either be sourced by power boat (power barge) or containerised, will provide an additional 20 megawatts (MW) of electricity, making up for the shortage of 10MW and thereby providing NV GEBE with excess capacity to provide efficient services to customers.

From the time of signing such an agreement, this initial phase is estimated to take approximately 7 days (power boat) to 10 weeks (containerised), depending on the option that is most feasible to meet the demands of NV GEBE’s consumers.

The audience was told during the session that GEBE is likely to take a decision on one of the options as early as this week.

  The additional 20MW will allow NV GEBE to perform the necessary maintenance and upgrades to its infrastructure and thereby prepare the company for the development and implementation of its long-term plan, which includes sourcing, engineering procurement and construction (EPC) of a new power station.

  Over the long term, NV GEBE aims to comfortably meet the demands of the consumers of St. Maarten by expanding capacity with an additional 27MW, which undoubtedly includes a percentage of the total capacity generated from renewable energy. For successful execution of this

long-term plan, NV GEBE will need to acquire two to three new production units to meet the N-2 reliability criteria. Financially, this investment is estimated to cost between US $35 to 45 million. From the time of signing the agreement, the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) phase is expected to take approximately 18-24 months.

  GEBE indicated in its press statement on Sunday that there is no guarantee, as these mechanical engines can be unpredictable. However, the vision is for load-shedding to become a thing of the past.

  “Strategically implementing these solutions would bring an end to load-shedding, normalise residents’ livelihoods and facilitate the execution of NV GEBE’s preventive maintenance schedule for the remainder of this year and into 2025,” GEBE said. “In terms of consumer relief, all efforts will be made to ensure that the additional cost accrued by NV GEBE towards these proposed solutions will not be passed on to customers; who will only be billed for their consumption, once their power is on.”

  It was explained that 94% of billing has been restored. Customers still experiencing billing concerns are encouraged to visit NV GEBE’s offices in Philipsburg or Simpson Bay for further review and resolution.

  When asked about providing a schedule for load-shedding, NV GEBE explained that due to the complexity of load management and the grid configuration, which involves dynamically shifting loads across various feeders where demand fluctuates, providing an exact schedule is challenging. Customers may expect adherence to such schedules, but due to these factors, precise timing of load-shedding remains difficult, as it is subject to change based on consumer usage. However, NV GEBE said it will continue to post load-shedding schedule updates, because “we understand the needs of its customers.”

  GEBE was asked about the usage of solar power as an alternative energy source. NV GEBE’s team explained that this is a costly option that requires more ongoing investments for maintenance in this tropical climate, along with global warming. This option is not among NV GEBE’s current priorities, but will be further researched, among other areas to reduce the carbon footprint. Solar energy is being explored as a component for mixed-use in the company’s overall strategic plans.

  NV GEBE said it appreciates any support that can be provided by large consumers who can alleviate the load capacity with increased usage of their power generators. It also encourages the community to be more mindful of conserving energy when possible, as every little bit helps.

  NV GEBE is also working along with the government of St. Maarten to explore viable solutions on behalf of all residents and stakeholders.

  “We’re all in this together!” said Washington. “I would like to extend a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the team at NV GEBE for their unwavering dedication and hard work towards resolution of these challenges we are all faced with. Also, thank you to the community of St. Maarten for your patience, understanding and cooperation. With our steadfast focus and all hands on deck, brighter days are ahead!”

  Washington had explained that GEBE was currently operating at a capacity that is 10-15MW short. Therefore, the ongoing load-shedding is primarily due to insufficient generation capacity.

  The shortfall began on Sunday, May 5, 2024, when one of NV GEBE’s largest production units, diesel generator (DG) set #19, encountered a bearing failure. In the days preceding the failure, the power system recorded high load demands and consumption for this time of year, reaching 57MW. This increased demand is attributed to global climate change affecting the Caribbean region, as well as continuous construction developments on the island.

  With the failure of DG #19, NV GEBE’s operational capacity fell short by approximately 3-4MW of the peak demand. Consequently, the company was compelled to initiate load-shedding practices during peak hours from 11:00am to roughly 6:00pm as a preventative measure to avoid complete

country-wide blackouts due to system overloads.

  However, on Sunday, June 2, NV GEBE experienced another setback when the auxiliary section of DG #9 caught fire. The fire was extinguished by on-site personnel, but it caused damage to several auxiliaries of DG #8 and #9, further reducing NV GEBE’s operational capacity by approximately 6MW. This widened the shortfall to approximately 10MW during peak periods, resulting in increased load-shedding which sometimes extends up to midnight.

  GEBE said that while a larger turnout was expected for the session, the attendance reflected a balanced cross-section of the community and included a combination of media, business owners and residents.

  NV GEBE’s Corporate Communication Officer Paula Gordon explained at the start of the session that the “Candid Conversations” event was an information series for a video blog that will be shared to the general public. NV GEBE’s Communication Consultant Jacqueline Louis assisted with the overall event organisation and as the emcee of the question and answer session.

  In follow-up, the complete video of the “Candid Conversations with NV GEBE” will be shared to the public within the coming week. Additional sessions are being organised to focus on specific topics that are of interest to customers. The entire community is encouraged to attend, openly voice their questions/concerns/recommendations and be an active part of the solutions.

NV GEBE will continue its efforts with ongoing media and community outreach.

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