Power, water woes hit Berbicians hard

The Guyana Power and Light Incorporated is hard pressed to convince its thousands of consumers on both sides of the Berbice River that the spate of unscheduled and disruptive power outages over the past month has been due only to maintenance works and mechanical problems as officially stated.

Just over two weeks ago, an official of the company had explained that the then two-week-old outages were as a result of generation shortfall and maintenance works at the No. 53 Sub-station. The maintenance works, he had said then, were related to an imminent link-up with diesel plants at Guysuco’s Skeldon Estate.

According to him, the company was working to alleviate the situation by the weekend of November 3.

On November 2, the company issued a press release stating that tests on the machinery and transmission lines connected to the Skeldon Co-generation Plant were being conducted. These, it said, were aimed at identifying and remedying faults and glitches. Consumers in the region, the release said, were expected to begin receiving power from the plant during the last week of November.

For the umpteenth time in recent years, the unexpected blackouts returned out of the blue just over four weeks ago to plague Berbicians like a malignant disease.

No community, from Abary to Crabwood Creek, has been spared the misery, the inconvenience, the fear, financial loss, insecurity and damage to equipment traditionally associated with sudden, frequent and prolonged outages.

The problem has been further compounded over the past two weeks by related disruptions to the potable water supply system, which depends on electricity. The situation reached serious proportions last weekend when there was an almost total shutdown of the water supply system with some areas deprived of both services for all of Sunday and most of yesterday.

Over the past week, consumers have been forced to endure between six and 12 hours of blackouts across Region Six and the West Berbice sub-region.

In a press release issued on Sunday, the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) said there was an initial improvement in the power supply from last week. However, the fluctuation in the power supply in Regions Five and Six has severely disrupted the distribution of water to residents in the two regions. “The electrical power received from the Guyana Power and Light Inc,” the release said, ” is inadequate for the pump stations to operate at their scheduled times.”

As if to inflict further pain on the already suffering consumers, during most of yesterday the power and water supply played a game of cat and mouse; when there was power there was no water and vice versa. In some areas, schoolchildren with buckets could be seen combing their neighbourhoods for water to prepare for school. Many eventually gave up and decided not to attend classes.

A source at GWI’s New Amsterdam Plant told this newspaper that they were encountering mechanical problems with two pumps but they were expected back in operation by late yesterday.

A source at Canefield told Stabroek News yesterday that the Number Four, 4.5-megawatt Mire lees Blackstone Engine was out of operation but could not say when it was likely to return to service.

Additionally the Onverwagt Power Station on the West Coast was out of service, while two Caterpillar Sets at No. 53 and Canefield were also down. The company, the source said, was not in a position to provide a load-shedding guide as it was dealing with a very fluid situation. Four Caterpillar sets are currently in operation at Canefield.

The official explained that he was unable to say when the supply in the two regions was expected to return to normalcy. The Number Four engine has a capacity to generate some 4.5 megawatts of electricity; the Onverwagt Engine approximately two megawatts and the Caterpillar sets 1.5 megawatts each. The demand in East and West Berbice has been around 12-14 megawatts but with new areas having being electrified, this demand would have increased. The source was unwilling to provide any demand and supply statistics.

Meanwhile the business community has been surprisingly silent on this debilitating situation, despite being among those expected to suffer the most. This newspaper however elicited comments from President of the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce and Industry David Subnauth and President of the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development Association Ramesh Maraj.

Maraj described the situation as “disgusting and impacting negatively on the business community.” The Chamber, he said, was very concerned about the situation and was seeking a meeting with the Regional Chairman to discuss the effects on the business sector. The body has not been informed by GPL about any plans to alleviate the situation. The New Amsterdam-based Chamber is expected to discuss the situation at its monthly meeting this Thursday.

Subnauth said the business sector on the upper Corentyne has been seriously affected by the situation over the past three weeks. Shopkeepers cannot meet their commitments and the absence of a load-shedding schedule has exasperated the situation. His Chamber is also expected to discuss the situation at its monthly meeting this week. Over the weekend, Subnath said, the area was out of power from 6 pm on Saturday to 10 am on Sunday.

In New Amsterdam, consumers were out of power for more than 12 hours on Sunday. There are fears that if the blackouts continue for such prolonged periods on a daily basis criminal activities are likely to escalate.

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