NV GEBE successfully hosts initial ‘Candid Conversations’ series for the Community | SOUALIGA NEWSDAY

SINT MAARTEN (GREAT BAY) - On Friday, June 7th, tensions were high as NV GEBE welcomed approximately 60 guests for Part I of their 'Candid Conversations' public information series at the University of St. Martin. 

As this unprecedented event was organized to educate and engage the community of St. Maarten, a larger turnout was expected. However, the attendance reflected a balanced cross-section, comprised of a combination of media, business owners and residents.

These stakeholders passionately shared their questions, concerns and recommendations to a panel of NV GEBE's management team, including Troy Washington, Temporary Manager, Patrick Drijvers; Distribution Manager, Mishlyn Stephen, Commercial Department Head and Ramiro Hernandez, Assistant Distribution Manager. 

Paula Gordon, NV GEBE's Corporate Communication Officer opened the program with a warm welcome, rules of order and explained that the "Candid Conversations" event is an information series for a video blog that will be shared to the general public. Jacqueline Louis, NV GEBE's Communication Consultant, assisted with the overall event organization and, as the M.C. of the Q & A session. 

The event was well organized to allow participants the opportunity to interact with NV GEBE's management team and have meaningful, heartfelt, solution-oriented discussions, which was done with utmost respect in an orderly fashion. 

Hope on the Horizon

Though the frustrations among select participants were evident, several poignant questions elicited resounding applause from the audience. NV GEBE's management team provided candid responses with compassion, professional and insightful explanations, including transparent details regarding the company's current state of affairs, painting a realistic picture, with hope on the horizon. 

The majority of guests attested to this fact, not only in their satisfaction with the transparency during the "Candid Conversations," but also their comfort in staying after the event to continue with open, solution-oriented dialogues. 

Among the top highlights of the discussions were questions regarding load shedding and the timing for resolution of NV GEBE's capacity challenges. It was apparent that this topic was the prime area that is affecting the overall quality of life of residents, tourists visiting the island and the business community in various ways. 

Global Climate Change & Construction Developments leading to Increased Demand

Mr. Washington explained that: "NV GEBE is currently operating at a capacity that is 10-15 megawatts (MW) short. Therefore, the ongoing load shedding is primarily due to insufficient generation capacity." The shortfall began on Sunday, May 5th, 2024, when one of NV GEBE's largest production units, Diesel Generator (DG) set #19, encountered a bearing failure.

In the days preceding the failure, the power system recorded high load demands and consumption for this time of year, reaching 57 MW. This increased demand is attributed to global climate change affecting the Caribbean region, as well as continuous construction developments on the island. With the failure of DG #19, NV GEBE's operational capacity fell short by approximately 3 to 4 MW of the peak demand.

The Fire

Consequently, the company was compelled to initiate load shedding practices during peak hours from 11 a.m. to roughly 6:00 p.m., as a preventative measure to avoid complete blackouts, due to system overloads. However, on Sunday, June 2nd, 2024, NV GEBE experienced another setback when the auxiliary section of DG #9 caught fire.

The fire was promptly extinguished by onsite personnel, but it caused damage to several auxiliaries of DG #8 & #9, further reducing NV GEBE's operational capacity by approximately 6 MW. This widened the shortfall to approximately 10 MW during peak periods, resulting in increased load shedding which sometimes extends up to midnight. 

NV GEBE Exploring Solutions

With the focus on short-, mid-, and long-term solutions, NV GEBE is actively exploring the most feasible and cost-effective solutions. While customers are demanding swift resolution, these plans require detailed technical evaluations and cost/benefits analyses to ensure that they're compatible with the company's operational systems, within a reasonable budget. 

Towards an immediate/short-term solution, NV GEBE revisited an option previously considered, which includes entering into a rental agreement for portable electricity generating units. These units, which can either be sourced by power boat or containerized, will provide an additional 20 MW, circumventing the shortage of 10 MW and thereby, provide NV GEBE with excess capacity to provide efficient services to customers.

From the time of signing the agreement, this initial phase is estimated to take approximately seven (7) days (power boat) to 10 weeks (containerized), depending on the option that is most feasible to meet the demands of NV GEBE's consumers.   

In the plan for mid-term solutions, the additional 20 MW will allow NV GEBE to perform the necessary maintenance and upgrades to their infrastructure and thereby, prepare the company for the development and implementation of its long-term plan, which includes sourcing, engineering procurement and construction (EPC) of a new power station. 

Long-term Solution Plan

Over the long-term, NV GEBE aims to comfortably meet the demands of the consumers of St. Maarten by expanding capacity with an additional 27 MW, which undoubtedly includes a percentage of the total capacity generated from renewable energy.

For successful execution of this long-term plan, N.V. GEBE will need to acquire two to three new production units to meet the N-2 reliability criteria. Financially, this investment is estimated to cost between 35 to 45 million USD. From the time of signing the agreement, the Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) phase is expected to take approximately 18 to 24 months.

NV GEBE advised that there's no guarantee, as these mechanical engines can be unpredictable. However, the vision is for load shedding to become a thing of the past. Strategically implementing these solutions would bring an end to load shedding, normalize residents' livelihoods, and facilitate the execution of NV GEBE's preventive maintenance schedule for the remainder of this year and into 2025. 

In terms of consumer relief, all efforts will be made to ensure that the additional costs accrued by NV GEBE towards these proposed solutions, will not be passed on to customers; who will only be billed for their consumption, once their power is on. 

It was explained that 94% of billing has been restored and the fuel clause is a concession implemented by the Government of St. Maarten to cover the company's growing operational costs. Any customers still experiencing billing concerns are encouraged to visit NV GEBE's offices in Philipsburg or Simpson Bay for further review and resolution.  

A load shedding schedule is challenging

When asked about providing a schedule for load shedding, NV GEBE explained that due to the complexity of load management and the grid configuration, which involves dynamically shifting loads across various feeders where demand fluctuates, providing an exact schedule is challenging.

Customers may expect adherence to such schedules, but due to the aforementioned factors, precise timing of load shedding remains difficult, as it is subject to change based on consumer usage. However, NV GEBE will continue to post load shedding schedule updates, because we understand the needs of our customers. 

Solar & Alternative Energy Sources

Several participants inquired about the usage of solar power as an alternative energy source. NV GEBE's team explained that this is a costly option that requires more ongoing investments for maintenance in this tropical climate, along with global warming. This option is not among NV GEBE's current priorities but will be further researched, among other areas to reduce the carbon footprint. Solar energy is being explored as a component for mixed-use in the company's overall strategic plans. 

NV GEBE appreciates any support that can be provided by large consumers who can alleviate the load capacity with increased usage of their power generators, and also, encourages the community to be more mindful of conserving energy, when possible, as every little bit helps. 

NV GEBE is also working along with the Government of St. Maarten to explore viable solutions on behalf of all residents and stakeholders. 

We are all in this together

"We're all in this together!" says Washington. "I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the team at NV GEBE for their unwavering dedication and hard work towards resolution of these challenges we are all faced with. Also, thank you to the community of St. Maarten for your patience, understanding and cooperation. With our steadfast focus and all hands on deck, brighter days are ahead!" 

In follow-up, the complete video of the "Candid Conversations with NV GEBE" will be shared to the public within the coming week. Additional sessions are being organized to focus on specific topics that are of interest to customers. The entire community is encouraged to attend, openly voice their questions/ concerns/ recommendations and be an active part of the solutions. NV GEBE will continue its efforts with ongoing media and community outreach.

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