Lethem power outage disrupts water, closes schools

Lethem and neighbouring communities lost power and water over the weekend, resulting in the temporarily closure of six schools.

Chairman of the Lethem Power Company Inc (LPCI) Board John Macedo told Stabroek News that on Thursday one of the generators used to supply electricity to the community was taken in for routine servicing and since there was no a backup system in place, residents had to face some blackouts. However, after the routine servicing, both generators stopped working on Saturday due to water accumulation in the fuel compartment of the generator.

No signs of the potential calamity were spotted during the routine servicing, Macedo added. He said that personnel are trying to determine the possible cause for the shutdown of the generators to restore power in the area. He said the LPCI is taking the situation very seriously and he asked for residents affected by the blackouts to be understanding and patient.

A reliable source told this newspaper that water could have only gotten into the fuel compartment of the generator if the head gasket was damaged. The source further said that the head gasket could have been damaged by overheating of the generator due to the evaporation of water placed in the system to regulate the heat of the generator. Wear and tear could have also caused the damage to the head gasket.

Lethem has suffered recurring outages of the years.

Macedo also said that two new generators are scheduled to arrive in Lethem today. These generators are expected to be used in conjunction with the two generators currently operated by the power company. However, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, while addressing the National Assembly yesterday, said he learnt yesterday morning that the generators are still to be transported from Georgetown to Lethem.

The St Ignatius Secondary, Primary and Nursery schools, the Arapaima Primary and Nursery schools and the Culvert City Nursery School are the schools affected, while a hostel for students attending the St Ignatius Secondary School from surrounding areas was also closed because of the disruptions.

Stabroek News was told that students who live at the hostel had resorted to using water from a nearby creek but they were stopped from doing so when some students began to show symptoms of a diarrhoea yesterday.

Region Nine Chairman Wilson Laurentino said up to late yesterday afternoon that the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) was contemplating supplying water by tractor to the various schools and the hostel, which houses 137 children, to address the water shortage and to ensure children are able to attend school.


‘Bad management’

Resident Carl Parker blamed poor management at the LPCI over the latest development, saying he believed that that no one was at the power station over the past weekend to add water to the generators to regularise the heat generated. Parker also said such situations continually arose during weekends.

Parker said the community started to experience outages since last Thursday. He added that while there was power for a few hours on Thursday and Friday, it completely went on Saturday and has not returned since.

Because of the situation, Lethem residents are now calling for a hold on the agreement they made with the LPCI on the electricity tariff a little over a week ago, following a request for the rescinding of the planned increase to $75 per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

Parker said they took this initiative because of the prolonged blackouts and because Macedo had informed both him and another resident, Carlton Beckles, that the business community had agreed to the new tariff.

Parker said businesspersons are now saying they are completely against the new rates. Macedo said he and his team had a meeting with the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which represents the business community, and its members agreed to the new electricity tariff prior to its implementation.

APNU MP Sydney Allicock yesterday presented a petition to Parliament on behalf of the Region Nine residents calling on LPCI to immediately rescind its decision to increase the tariff.

He added that the petition did not mean that the Lethem residents did not want to pay for electricity and said that it was about getting things right. “For too long we have been seeing good money going to waste and that is because of bad management,” Allicock said.

“It [is] expected that we have a new power station and because of this we need to have a clean sheet, a proper administrative body stationed in the Lethem area. Across-the-board, persons have been paying one rate, but we are asking that the different levels of payments be made and to think about the poor people and bringing balance. It is also very useful to have an investigation so that all possible malpractices [are] corrected,” Allicock told the Assembly.

Hinds, in response to Allicock’s presentation, said the government’s policy is to equitably advance electrification across Region Nine and Guyana as a whole. He said the cost for electricity has to be set so that the operations and maintenance costs would be met. He reiterated that this position was communicated to residents, who agreed.

“The government tries to maintain 24/7 supply of electricity to Lethem but the [cost of the operation]… largely carried by the government has been increasing,” Hinds said. Hinds also said the two new generators supplied to Lethem for the new power plant costs $50 million combined.

But Parker suggested that the two generators are too small and added that it is his belief that a few years after installation, Lethem will be in the same situation it faces now.


‘Abide with policy’

In a letter circulated yesterday (and published in today’s Stabroek News), Hinds said the government’s policy in providing “a degree of electrification across our hinterland” is that government would put in the capital requirements while expecting the beneficiaries to meet recurring costs for operations and maintenance. “The historical electricity prices at Lethem were set with the assumption that the majority of electricity required would have been provided by [the] Moco-Moco [hydropower station], but this has not been so since 2004,” he said.

According to Hinds, by 2011 there operating costs were subsidized by more than $100 million a year, representing more than an average of $100,000 for each of the LPCI’s 1,050 customers but likely ranging from $25,000 to $1 million across the different households and businesses receiving power.

“Lethem has been getting more than it should – if this is maintained, moreso, if it is increased, there would be less money to provide an appropriate subsidy to other developing communities across our hinterland,” Hinds said. He noted that Mahdia and Port Kaituma are abiding with the pricing of no charge for the first 15 kWh and $100 for each additionally kWh for a 24/7 service.

Moruca, Mabaruma, Matthew’s Ridge and Kamarang, he added, are also calling for a 24/7 service and they must be ready too to abide with the policy for such a service.

However, Beckles said the Prime Minister’s letter is just a means of “damage control.” He said Lethem was not a mining region like Port Kaituma, Mahdia or Bartica and therefore it cannot be compared with them. He also called for Hinds to speak to the residents of Lethem himself and not to use a letter to do so.

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