The new Skeldon factory is grinding cane for the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (GuySuCo) expected bumper crop this season with 330 tonnes declared in forty-eight hours last week and sustained production up to yesterday, signalling the start of its commercial operation after a string of hiccups.
The factory made two declarations last week: 160 tonnes produced on Sunday and 170 tonnes the following day, and is expected to release new production figures today.
And with optimism flowing, the old factory, which had been grinding following start-up problems with the new US$181M project last year, has been unofficially de-commissioned.
Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud said yesterday that stability in the production is critical as the industry shifts to full operations at the new factory, noting that a complete and on-the-spot assessment would be done on Monday.
He emphasized that the factory is currently in a testing phase, but was keen to point out that the quality of sugar being produced is of export quality. Sugar produced within the past few days is already in the sugar bins, according to him. But even with the optimism, he said a cautious approach is being taken because of how complicated the new technology at the new factory is.
“…we are cautiously optimistic”, Persaud told Stabroek News and disclosed that he is taking a team up to Skeldon on Monday to make a full assessment of the factory. He said that PNCR-1G Member, Anthony Vieira of the parliamentary Economic Services Committee has also been invited to Skeldon. This is in keeping with a promise Persaud had made to involve the committee in developments within the industry.
On the issue of the old factory, which had rescued the industry when the new Skeldon plant failed to start up, Persaud said that it is no longer in operation and theorized that it could be mothballed in another few months.
Persaud said he would make a full disclosure on the new factory after visiting on Monday, adding that the idea is to make an on-the-spot assessment and consult with the relevant, technical persons.
President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) Komal Chand had also indicated to this newspaper that the new factory is operational and is producing at good levels. He pointed out that the focus is on sustainability in the production levels.
Chand said that workers in the industry had been slightly affected by bad weather during the past two weeks. Additionally, he said, the two consecutive holidays this week saw a reduced turnout during those testing periods.
According to the GAWU President, stakeholders are optimistic and are closely monitoring the operations at Skeldon because “we want it to succeed”. He made mention of the capacity levels of the new factory, noting that when it is fully operational production is expected to rapidly increase.
Further, Chand said that the old factory has served the industry well even producing around 170 tonnes just prior to being de-commissioned last week.
Prior to last week the expansion project at Skeldon had experienced hurdles with the starting up of the factory which had impacted on production – the industry recorded its lowest production level in years in 2008.
The project is a turnkey one between Government and the China National Technology Import and Export Corporation (CNTIC), which was to be handed over in October last year, one in a string of missed deadlines. The administration has since filed for liquidated damages.
CNTIC is required to conduct a 24-hour test and a 72-hour test; these must be successfully completed. Afterward, there would be three other 72-hour tests over the next year and the contractor would still be liable for defects that might arise.
Over the past few months the sugar processing equipment at the new factory have been tested in the sequence of Cane Preparation, Juice extraction, Clarification and Evaporation, Pan boiling and crystallization and VHP sugar handling.
The construction of the Skeldon factory was completed in May with independent components successfully tested prior to the completion date. Work began on the factory in 2005 and it was expected that the project would have been completed by October last year.