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Faulty GRENLEC engine the cause of frequent power outages

The power plant run by GRENLEC at Queen’s Park

In recent weeks and days, there have been very frequent power outages across the island, which have been attributed to “some technical glitches” with an engine that was purchased by the former Keith Mitchell-led regime last year to enhance the operations of the Grenada Electricity Services Ltd (GRENLEC) which is the lone electricity provider on the island.

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell addressed the issue of recurring power outages during this week’s post-Cabinet media briefing in St. George’s, where he disclosed that the engine that was purchased in June 2021 “is still under warranty, and the technicians from the supplier are on the island looking to address the servicing issues or whatever issues may apply to the engine.”

Due to the uncertain state of the generator at the Queen’s Park plant, approximately six (6) months after the December 2020 US$60M repurchase of GRENLEC majority shares from the Florida-based WRB Enterprises Ltd., the former Keith Mitchell government spent over EC$16 M to purchase a new 9.7 MW fossil engine to replace one that was damaged, in an effort to increase the overall generation capacity at the Queens Park plant to 52 MW, and ensure continuous supply of electricity on the island.

Back then, Dr. Keith Mitchell, who was voted out of office in June, and is current Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, noted the million dollar purchase was necessary to mitigate against the “loss of economic activity by insufficient or irregular supply of electricity,” which he said “can be far more costly than the cost of the generator.”

However, citing concerns with GRENLEC’s ability to meet the growth in the demand for electricity in the various sectors, newly elected Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell told reporters on Tuesday that based on initial reports “the prior administration did not pay any attention to this.”

“There is in fact, no strategic plan particularly, to deal with the growth in demand, and for GRENLEC to be in a position to meet the generating capacity that it needs in order to meet that growth in demand,” he said.

According to PM Dickon Mitchell, this “is something that has to be dealt with in urgency because as the economy continues to grow, as the construction industry continues to grow, and particularly the growth in the tourism sector…it means Grenlec will have to be in a position to meet that demand and for it to be able to meet that demand its generating capacity needs to grow it.”

The Grenadian leader noted that “the general report from GRENLEC indicates that significant investment will be needed (for) the company if it (has) to meet the demand, and, the growth in demand for electricity.”

Shortly after assuming office in June, PM Mitchell had signaled the intention of the new Congress administration to seek a strategic partner who could be on board within a year to help finance GRENLEC, which continues to operate independently even though majority shares in the utility had been re-acquired by the previous administration almost two years ago.

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This week, government announced the removal of a 25% discount on non-fuel charges on electricity, which was implemented by the former regime eight months ago and has led to GRENLEC losing in excess of $16M.

PM Dickon Mitchell said “the mandate to the (new GRENLEC) board is to in fact provide the government with a comprehensive plan for how GRENLEC intends to address meeting the generating needs of the society over the short, medium and long term.”

During the press briefing, it was also disclosed that plans are afoot to embark on a comprehensive review to determine the relevance of the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC), which was established in 2016 by the PURC Act to promote reliable and sustainable utility services at fair, and reasonable prices.

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, who has identified a need to “determine whether there is a need at all for the legislation in the first place since we only have one power company” and highlighted an issue of bureaucracy which was having a negative impact, particularly on solar energy investors on the island.

“There are other issues that need to be addressed which we intend to do so in the next several months including the role of the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission, and its relationship with GRENLEC, and the individual, particularly solar producers on the island.

“As it stands, the situation is not satisfactory, we have received several complaints from individuals who have invested in solar plants about the bureaucracy…when they attempt to, first of all, connect to the grid, and to deal with the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission.”

“So, we will be conducting a comprehensive review of the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission to determine whether there is a need at all for the legislation in the first place since we only have one power company, and effectively with the government now being the majority shareholder of that entity, you essentially have one government entity regulating another government entity, and frankly making life difficult for a lot of the individual solar producers on the island who have taken their money to invest in alternative and renewable energy.”

“As you are aware the government’s policy is in fact to encourage as much as we can renewable energy. So, where individual citizens have taken the lead in investing in renewable energy we should be encouraging and applauding them and not making their lives difficult.”

PM Dickon Mitchell said he expects that the comprehensive review process would be completed “between now, and the end of October.”

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