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Wilson City Plant to Use Diesel Rather than HFO

Environment Minister Earl Deveaux recently confirmed that heavy fuel oil would not be used at the $105 million Wilson City power plant being built on Abaco. However, Bahamas Electricity Corporation Chairman Michael Moss said a final determination on possible higher rates for Abaco consumers as a result had not  been made.

MAN Diesel Canada are building the 48-megawatt plant some 14 miles south of Marsh Harbour and about two miles from the coastal ruins of Wilson City, the fabulous lumber town that operated for about 10 years in the early 1900s. It is expected to be operational by June.

The site consists of a 25-acre fenced clearing, with another 75 acres of forested land assigned for future expansion. And the southeastern corner of the cleared site is less than 2100 feet from unspoiled tidal mangroves. A terminal will be built for tankers to offload fuel via a submarine pipeline. Fuel will then be pumped through an underground pipeline some two miles to the power plant.

The prospect that the new plant would burn heavy fuel oil (also known as bunker C) – the most polluting of all fossil fuels – aroused much opposition from concerned residents and environmentalists on Abaco. The power plant is sited in an ecologically sensitive area of tidal creeks and mangroves connected by dozens of blue holes.

During a visit to the plant in December, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said the new generators could burn HFO or diesel, but that Abaconians might have to pay more for electricity if diesel was used. The additional costs of using diesel at Wilson City have been variously put at $3.5 to $10 million a year by BEC spokesmen.

Both the prime minister and BEC chairman Moss have said that the utility is working through the figures before a final determination on a possible rate increase is made.

All BEC customers throughout the country are presently billed according to the same base tariff structure and a levelised fuel surcharge. It is not yet known whether BEC’s billing systems can easily accomodate a fuel surcharge disaggregation, Moss said. And the cost of diesel varies from one island to another because of differing freight rates.

If the cost differential between diesel and HFO for the Wilson City plant is restricted to Abaco, Moss said, consumers there will face a surcharge increase between one and a half times and two times that incurred by BEC customers elsewhere in the Bahamas.

However, if the incremental fuel cost is spread among all BEC consumers throughout the country, customers will experience a fuel surcharge increase of around 0.30 c/kWh – a 3 per cent increase. This is because Abaco’s fuel consumption is  relatively small compared with BEC’s New Providence fuel consumption.

“While burning diesel at the Abaco plant would result in only a moderate increase in surcharge to the overall BEC customer base, and while the introduction of HFO to the plant has not yet taken place, and while HFO is not used in any other family island plant, its introduction to Abaco could be avoided,” Mr Moss said.

In response, the environmental activist group, Abaco Cares, argued that the continued use of diesel on Abaco should, if anything, result in lower consumer rates due to the operation of larger and more efficient engines at the new plant. It said the introduction of higher rates for Abaco consumers would be “purely punitive”.

According to the group’s leader, Pastor Clint Kemp, “the current plant uses diesel, so there is no reason why doing so at the new plant should cost more. And because of all the complications involved in using heavy fuel oil, a large portion of any savings from the lower cost of HFO – perhaps a third or more – will be soaked up by additional construction and operating costs.”

“I don’t believe there would have been any chance for the fuel to be changed if we had not raised our voices,” he added. “I hope that Abaco becomes a centre of environmental activism to call government to account. Wilson City is just one item on the list. We need everyone to join in so there is a bigger voice. We all have to become evangelists.”

Meanwhile, the venerable 25.6 megawatt plant at Marsh Harbour is barely keeping up with the demand from Abaco’s 15,000 residents, 1500 second home owners, and 100,000 visitors. They suffer through endless outages and load shedding, some of which are reportedly due to poor maintenance and others to lack of fuel.


Category/ies:Bahamas News.
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