Protest sparks reply on Lethem power crisis

The Lethem Power Company Inc. (LPCI) yesterday an-nounced that a generating set that recently failed, creating a “crisis” situation for residents enduring major disruptions in power and water supplies, should be back in service in the next 48 hours.

The announcement was made in an official statement from the LPCI hours after about one hundred Lethem residents staged a protest over what they described as the unbearable situation.

Electricity formula: This resident depicts how their 5 hours of electricity supply was calculated.

LPCI’s statement, in which it outlined plans to restore an acceptable level of generation by mid-December and a reasonable back-up system next year, was the first official word from the company on the situation, more than a week after the exciter for the FG 625 kVa unit failed.

“[It]… has been repaired in Georgetown and is to be flown back to Lethem today, November 20th. It is expected to be back in service within the next 48 hours,” LPCI said, adding that after selective tendering over the last few days, an engine for a 750 kVa FG Wilson generator set would be sourced from Florida, in the US and flown to Guyana.

“With the return of the 625 kVa FG Wilson in a day or two, residents of Lethem should be receiving power for about 20 hours each day, and with the return of the FG Wilson 750 kVa genset by December 14th, power should be available again to all customers, 24 hours per day,” it added.

As a result of the interrupted electricity service, the water supply to villages was also disrupted as immediately after power is cut off, the water goes too.

President of the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), Jacqueline D’Aguiar had told this newspaper that some residents depended solely on water from the pipes and they were severely affected since water has not been pumped since the generator was damaged. Some residents were getting water from private wells, while there were also reports that water was being sold.

‘Visionless’

Yesterday, many Lethem residents, including shop owners who have suffered significant financial loss as a result of the inadequate electricity supply, stood in the scorching sun to protest in front of the LPCI office. They held placards which read: “Visionless + Poor Management = 5 Hours,” “LPC Create History by Causing Candle Shortage in the Rupununi,” and “No Electricity, No Water.”

Residents of Lethem protesting yesterday over electricity.

Carlton Beckles, a resident, said that the protest got underway just before 10 am and despite it being a working day, many turned up in support of the action. From his estimation, more than one hundred persons were in attendance.

“We the residents know and have concluded that the patch up generator that they got there can’t wuk. We have been going through this for the past two weeks where we are being given five hours of power every ten hours,” he explained.

Beckles said that he has observed that the community’s commercial area has had a 24-hour electricity supply during this period, while pointing out that the majority of the persons who operate there are supporters of the government. He accused the power company of “manipulating the system” so as to ensure that helpless residents were the ones who would be suffering.

Asked how long the protest action would last, he said that it would continue and would be intensified until there is a reasonable solution.

Beverly Williams, a resident of Tabatinga, North Lethem was among those who joined the protest, which she said lasted for about an hour. “It really affecting us here… we want 24 hours light,” she stressed.

Williams told this newspaper via telephone that she wants betterment for her community and pointed out that as a business person, she is really feeling the effects of the situation. She explained that with the fluctuation of the electricity supply, she is unable to sleep well at night and the situation has resulted in appliances such as freezers and fans getting damaged.

Another resident, who asked not to be named, said that he stood on the “sidelines” and watched on. He explained that while he shared the concerns about the situation, he did not like the idea of “going straight to a protest” without discussions with those affected and agreement on a strategy to address the situation.

The man said the community has not been getting steady electricity for about three to four weeks but the situation worsened in the last week and a half. The man, who described himself as the owner of a retail store, said, “I want 24-hour security.”

‘Unexpected failures’

LPCI, which has been criticised for withholding information about the situation from the affected communities in Region 9, yesterday said it “extends regrets to the people of Lethem, and begs their patience” until the FG Wilson 625 kVa and 750kVa units have been restored.

It said until then, it has had to resort to the Caterpillar 350 kVa set and explained that the network has been arranged in roughly three equal parts, and since November 12 each part was provided five hours of power in every 16-hour period.

“LMPCI wants to assure residents of Lethem that this period of difficulties did not result from (inattention) but, rather, from a series of unexpected, untimely failure of gensets and from preoccupation with obtaining of fuel and maintaining operations during the period of the Linden unrest,” the company said.

It explained that when the engine of the FGW 750 kVa unit failed in April, there was adequate generation available. At that time, it said the focus was placed on: (i) determining whether the engine should be repaired or replaced; and (ii) the allowable, continuous operational rating.

It added that the portable Caterpillar 1.5 MW set, which GPL loaned to Lethem for the opening of the Takutu Bridge in 2009, subsequently failed on August 25. “By the time that the exciter on the FGW 625 kVa failed two Mondays ago, on November 12th, the crisis situation was recognised and the decision was taken to have the engine for the FGW 750 kVa genset flown in,” it said.

The company yesterday assured that it has put in place plans to restore an acceptable level of generation by mid-December and a reasonable back-up by the end of next May.

It said that with help from the government, through the Privatisation Unit/National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (PU/NICIL), tenders have been invited for the provision of an additional two generator sets, each expected to be 750 kVa. These are expected to be available in Lethem, early in the second quarter of 2013, it added.

LPCI also pointed out that in all the areas where new, small grids have been established, there is a wide variety of views on projections of growth in demand, and the actuality, and how they should be met.  It added that there are differences on how ongoing and new costs are to be met, and there is need for much learning in operations and maintenance of generator sets and networks. “It has, thus, been taking much time to get to sufficient common understanding and to arrive at decisions that are sufficiently supported,” it added.

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