SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth – Patrons at the popular Eviction Bar in Santa Cruz eagerly leaned forward on their stools.
In what had been a pulsating first 25 minutes, Manchester City – on the brink of securing the English Premier League football title – had just gone 2-0 ahead of hosts Tottenham Hotspurs.
The football was all the more enthralling since Manchester City had been forced to endure three straight defeats in all competitions, prior to their trip to Tottenham.
Then, with expectations high of more spectacular football to come, the cable television screen went blank. The overhead electric fan gradually slowed to a halt.
There was no anger, hardly a comment at yet another power outage in Santa Cruz. Such incidents are too frequent to any longer trigger strong emotion.
Minutes passed and gradually football fans lost hope and started to drift. “JPS strikes again,” quipped one man as he rose to leave. The electricity returned close to an hour-and-a-half later. By then, Manchester City’s 3-1 victory was consigned to history.
The frequency of power cuts in Santa Cruz has been of grave concern for years. Some outages last just a few seconds, sometimes minutes, sometimes hours.
The issue routinely triggers heated discussion at the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation with councillors, including the Santa Cruz Division’s representative Councillor Carl Williams (JLP) and several others from both political sides who live or work in the town, lashing out verbally.
They often express strong resentment at the seeming inability of representatives from electricity supplier, Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), to explain.
It was no different at the last monthly council meeting. “This morning we had three (power cuts) and I don’t get the impression that JPS is responding to this problem,” said an irate Councillor George Powell (JLP, Lacovia Division).
“It has been years (of frequent power cuts in Santa Cruz) and we really need to know what JPS is doing to improve the situation,” he said.
In Santa Cruz itself, residents and business operators make the point that the frequent outages lead to water lock offs. “When the power goes, so does water,” one woman told Jamaica Observer.
Also, plain discomfort and inconvenience apart, people complain of increased costs flowing from the need for generators, surge protection, and what they claim are increased electricity bills as a result of the tripping in and out of power.
“When you have a power outage and you have the power returning there is a sudden surge for all the equipment to come up. JPS reads your meter-based on the highest peaks, so that is going to be an increase in your electricity bill,” explained Linton Harriott, owner/operator of Bun Dung Supermarket located at the heart of the Santa Cruz commercial centre.
Harriott says generators are a must for supermarkets in Santa Cruz. “Without generators you couldn’t function,” he said.
That apart, Harriott complained about the cost of having to constantly replace protective equipment because of power outages over a period of many years. He is now contemplating even more expensive higher-end equipment to keep his business secure.
Equally frustrating for Harriott, he says JPS has been “unresponsive” to his queries.
“I really don’t know what the problem is,” he said.
But in an e-mailed response to questions from the Observer, Winsome Callum, JPS’s director of corporate communications, suggested that the recent addition to the grid of energy from renewables originating from solar and wind farms have led to instability. She also suggested that resolution to the problems could come soon.
“I am confirming that some JPS customers in Santa Cruz and other communities in parishes in south-western Jamaica may have seen an increase in short power outages, mainly as a result of the intermittency caused by the increase in renewables on the national grid. The renewable power plants (solar, wind, hydros) are susceptible to changes in weather and can become unavailable without notice,” said Callum.
“For example, when clouds pass over the solar plant in Clarendon we immediately lose the 20 MW of power provided by this facility. This sudden drop in output results in a generation shortfall, causing power outages. The same thing happens when we lose the power provided by the wind farms located in St Elizabeth. There is usually a delay in the restoration of power because it takes a few minutes for the oil- and gas-fired generating units to be brought onto the grid to make up for the shortfall experienced when the renewables go offline. This past weekend (two weekends ago) was particularly challenging because of the cloud cover that significantly affected the output from the solar facility,” she added.
According to Callum, JPS has implemented a number of initiatives to address the problem, and customers should see some improvement in the short term.
The JPS communications director added: “There are also two significant projects that are currently being implemented, which will result in significant improvement in the medium term:
(1) A 24.5 MW storage facility at Hunt’s Bay in Kingston, to provide back-up power. This hybrid energy storage solution will help to secure grid stability and reliability. It will be immediately available to provide back-up power when renewable plants go offline, so will smooth out those interruptions caused by the intermittency of the renewables.
(2) The new 190MW LNG power plant being built in Old Harbour will also help to reduce interruptions. The new technology and the size of the LNG-fired units make them more flexible and better able to ramp up quickly in response to sudden drop in output from other facilities.
Customers will begin to feel the benefits of these projects in early 2019. In the meantime, JPS will continue to explore all the available options to improve the reliability of the power supply to our customers in these communities.
At the recent municipal corporation meeting, chairman and Mayor of Black River Derrick Sangster (JLP, Mountainside Division) pointed to the frequency of complaints about Santa Cruz, relative to other places.
“This is a matter that has been brought up here on many occasions about the frequent outages in the Santa Cruz area,” said Sangster.
“If my memory serves me right, at one time I think an explanation was put forward that it was an area selected to offload the burden on the system,” he added.
The mayor was apparently referring to previous unconfirmed suggestions that Santa Cruz is targeted for load shedding since it has no ‘sensitive’ facilities such as hospitals.
That suggestion was rejected by Callum in her e-mailed response to the Observer.
“That’s not correct,” Callum said.
“The electrical grid is designed to protect itself through a complex protection scheme that takes into consideration the specific configuration of each transmission and distribution line (feeder). The protection system involves feeders that will automatically go offline whenever there’s a problem on the system – to prevent extensive outages or, at worse, grid collapse… Every feeder – right across the country – has a place in the grid protection scheme. The role or position of the feeder that supplies Santa Cruz in the protection scheme is determined by its actual configuration, geographical span and load demand – not simply on the basis of the absence or presence of hospitals or other type of business,” Callum explained.
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