Sunday, February 25, 2018

‘Mechanical failure, not sabotage’


High-level meeting: Public Utilities Minister Nizam Baksh and Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine, seated third and fourth from right, respectively, and members of the energy sector during talks relating to Good Friday’s blackout, at the Ministry of Energy office at Maska compound, La Romaine, yesterday. —Photo: DAVE PERSAD

Mark Fraser

IT was not sabotage that caused an islandwide electricity black-out on Good Friday, but mechanical failure, said Minister of Energy Kevin Ramnarine and Minister of Public Utilities Nizam Baksh yesterday.

Ramnarine and Baksh spoke to the media following a high-level round-table discussion with the different agencies involved with the electricity blackout. The meeting was held for two hours at the Ministry of Energy office at Maska Compound, La Romaine.

Among those in attendance at the meeting were Phoenix Park Gas Processors president Eugene Tiah, National Gas Company (NGC) president Indar Maharaj, NGC chairman Roopchand Chadeesingh, Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission general manager Kelvin Ramsook and PowerGen chief executive officer Fitzroy Harewood.

The Energy Minister said: “Thus far there is no evidence of sabotage. The root cause of the problem resides in the by-pass valve system that is operated by Phoenix Park gas processors Ltd and the national gas company. Both companies have been mandated to examine that system, with the view of upgrading that system to ensure that it never happens again,” said Ramnarine.

The Minster of Energy said the key companies and agencies involved have either completed or are in the process of completing their reports on the blackout.

He said all the reports will be collated by the Ministry of Energy, and on Thursday he will submit a report to Cabinet, as mandated by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

He said the purpose of yesterday’s meeting was to understand the root faults of what triggered the blackout and to make recommendations to ensure it was not repeated.

Baksh said the last known nationwide blackout in this country occurred in 1987.

The Minister of Public Utilities said the business community had not yet given feedback on their losses incurred during the blackout.

“We are working jointly with Ministry of Energy to ensure that we do not have a repeat to this extent,” said Baksh. “T&TEC is looking at their aspect. Our responsibility is really to take the electricity to the customers. We too are looking at the future development, we are looking at the cost factor and a time frame for delivery. We are looking at the growth in the country for houses and business, to project what requirements are needed for the next ten, 15, 20, 30 years.”

Ramnarine said one of the main recommendations was increasing the role of the Trinidad Generation Unlimited (TGU) power plant at La Brea in supplying electricity to the nation.

He said: “The TGU power plant is designed as the most modern, cutting-edge power plant in the Caribbean. It is designed to do 720 megawatts of power. Right now because of constraints with transmission lines, et cetera, it is only doing about 260. One of the recommendations coming from the meeting is that TGU has to be put in a position where it can supply all of its power to the country. It is not only important from an energy security point of view, but it is from an economic point of view. It is the most efficient power plant as it uses a lower amount of natural gas to produce the same unit of electricity, as compared to other power plants in the country.”

Ramnarine said recommendations were also made to introduce dual fuel power plants in Trinidad, as well as ultilising more alternative resources of power such as solar energy, and wind energy.

“The night we had the blackout, I was driving along the highway and the only lights that were available were the lights of the surveillance bays which are solar-powered,” said the Energy Minister. “There are already tax incentives for persons with solar energy products, and alternative energy and so on. I think it is taking root.”

He said studies were to be done across the country as to find the best locations for wind farms (using wind turbines to produce electricity).

“It is really to determine where are the areas in Trinidad to establish wind farms. And without even a study, we know the best areas are Manzanilla and Mayaro where there are lots of constant wind. That study will start shortly. What this event has also shown us is the importance of diversifying away from fossil fuels,” said Ramnarine.