Who Turned Out the Lights?
Roatan Sees Upsurge in Power Outages in February-March

April 23rd, 2014

Roatan experienced an increase in power outages in February and March as the Roatan Electric Company (RECO) did scheduled maintenance to prepare for Semana Santa and summer peak demand, RECO officials said. But the lights stayed on for Holy Week, except for a brief outage Easter Sunday they said was caused by a motorist hitting a utility pole.

Matthew Harper, RECO’s operations manager, said there were three major system-wide outages during February-March. The longest, which lasted 15 hours, was caused by a construction crew knocking down a transmission line, he said. But he said most of the outages resulted from taking generators offline for maintenance, which reduced the system’s spare capacity.

“We had two engines out, two of the big engines,” Harper said. He said repairs on the largest unit, which were expected to take a day, ended up taking 10 days because problems were detected that required bringing in a specialist from off the island. The second unit also took longer to put back online than expected, he said. That meant six of RECO’s usual 19 megawatts of generating capacity were unavailable. Peak demand is 14 megawatts.

Harper said all generators  were back online for Semana Santa, providing a 2-megawatt cushion above expected peak demand of 17 megawatts. As it turned out, though, demand  peaked at only 14.6 megawatts, down from 15.9 the year before. So the system was able to cope.

Richard Warren, RECO’s general manager, said the real problem was lack of generating capacity. “We’ve just been unable to invest money for five years because the government has not allowed us to do so.”

Warren said RECO submitted a plan to Tegucigalpa in 2012 to invest $30-40 million to improve Roatan’s grid and expand capacity. He said that the plan would reduce electricity costs by 20 percent and that it was awaiting approval from the Honduran Congress. The core of the plan is to build a 30 megawatt combined-cycle plant fueled by liquified petroleum gas (LPG).

Meanwhile, RECO is moving ahead on a 4-megawatt wind farm, part of which Warren said would be operational this year. He said RECO also submitted a proposal to the Municipal Government two years ago for a similar-sized project to generate power from the island’s solid waste. But he said the Muni never responded.

Concerning the Mayor’s plan to generate energy from garbage in partnership with a Georgia company (see Interview), Harper and Warren said the same company had approached RECO with an offer to sell power using the same technology for 25 US cents a kilowatt-hour. However, they said, that would be only slightly less than what it costs  RECO to produce power from its current bank of diesel generators and substantially more than the 15 cents it expects energy to cost from the windfarm and from its proposed LPG plant.

“He (Limtech CEO R. Thomas Currin) wanted us to sign a letter of intent for an IPP (independent power producer agreement), and of course we wouldn’t do that,” Warren said.

Meanwhile, Harper said RECO was installing apparatus on the two circuits running west out of Los Fuertes – toward Coxen Hole, Flowers Bay, Sandy Bay, West End and West Bay – to enable it to better isolate outages caused by transmission problems. Had those systems been in place during Semana Santa, he said, the Easter outage would have been limited to Coxen Hole.

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