GPL urgently needs US$110m -new CEO

Albert Gordon (right) addressing attendees last evening with Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson by his side.

Newly-appointed Guyana Power and Light (GPL) Chief Executive Officer, Albert Gordon has assured customers that eliminating blackouts was his number one priority and the utility company is pursuing access to US$110M for the immediate upgrade of systems.

“The biggest challenge now is keeping the lights on…so the first priority is to keep the lights on because the simplest of events on the distribution line…shuts the system down. Right now there are serious deficiencies in the system that we know need a certain amount of investment …”, Gordon told attendees at a cocktail reception held to welcome him last evening at the Pegasus Hotel.

“I have already identified a number of things that we need to do, we’ll need just over US$110m to deal with urgent matters [such as] the re-configuration…and building some redundancy… just to get the systems in place,” he added.

The former Director-General of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) of Jamaica was appointed GPL’s CEO last month on a three-year contract.

Gordon lamented the frequent shutdowns of GPL’s distribution systems saying that it needs to be urgently looked into. He pointed out that from records he has seen, for last year alone, GPL had 25 entire system shutdowns, something he considers  “very unusual” given that in other places a single occurrence would be cause for concern.

“The GPL system is evolving from a bunch of smaller systems that are being integrated and right now there are serious deficiencies in the system that we need to address,” he said.

“There are a lot of immediate actions that are needed to address the problems…Aside from that, about 50 megawatts of the generating capacity which is just over 130 megawatts is very old and in need of replacement. So they fail very regularly. We need to change that and many other things we have to do,” he added, while saying that another US$40M will be needed for generation upgrades bringing total needed cash to about US$150M.  GPL and its predecessor GEC have absorbed huge sums over the last 40 years but chronic problems and blackouts persist.

The US$110M will be used to reroute and correct the current system where distribution lines that take power to buildings are connected directly to the company’s generator. “That’s not how you configure a power system,” he said as he explained that the power should be generated and sent to high voltage lines of sub-stations for the voltage to be broken down before being distributed to the customers. “In that way, the generator is shielded from events that may happen on the distribution lines that run along the road so right now that’s not the case with a number of sub-stations.”

The utility company has often stated that disruptions in its distribution system are caused mostly by fallen trees on its wires during high winds or rains. Gordon pointed out that it was for such reasons that the company needs to use the generator-to-substation-to-customer system.

He echoed much of what he told the Public Utilities Commission last month.

“The age of the infrastructure… has contributed to a lot of outages. We have a very unstable system, so as was indicated last year, when the entire system went down 25 times, it’s not a reflection of the administration but the system. The feeders go directly to generators and normally you want them to generate power while stepping up to a network that is stable and has redundancies,” Gordon said.

Cautioning that the transformation process will take time, the new GPL CEO assured that it was possible and with monies it hopes to get from the Inter-American Development Bank  and other agencies, customers can expect to see changes as soon as works begin.

He had told the PUC that “There have been substantial improvements by the way of capital projects and changes in operations but there is still a lot more to be done and we are trying to accelerate that rate of transformation by accelerating the capital projects,” while noting that some of the capital projects have already been planned but the company has not been able to find funding for them.

“So, we want to get that done so we can essentially transform infrastructure. It’s not just a matter of its age but about 15MW is in need of replacement. We are overly reliant on our distribution network that is aged, so there are significant challenges here but we have a team that is very hard working,” Gordon noted.

He added that the team has been drafting a strategic plan that will include improving operations and transforming infrastructure so that GPL can be more efficient. Gordon also said that the company has been getting support from other international utilities.

“We will see some significant improvement but it is going to take a while, notwithstanding the low hanging fruits we are going after before we see enhanced performance. It’s not that we don’t aspire to improve, we have set a vision going forward to what will take us to what we consider as being a world-class utility and it is going to take a while and we will work closely with the regulator and try to be as transparent with the customers,” he said.

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