In 2007 when the government of the Bahamas changed, a plan of new energy sources was put into effect. The first plan to take effect was the building of a new power plant on Abaco, the largest Family Island. The plan for this power plant was installed under the current government of the Free National Movement. The power plan is to be installed and operated by the Bahamas Electricity Corporation; the government run and funded monopoly. The plan for this power plant was not brought into the attention of the Bahamian people until mid year last year. Since then it has created extreme amounts of controversy. Currently the power plant on Abaco is fueled by diesel and it is not big enough to support the growth of the island in the last five years. This new power plant runs off of excess crude oil. A lot of Bahamian is worried about the effects on the economy and the environment. According to Dave Ralph "we have been told that The Bahamas is the largest emitter of carbon in the Caribbean, probably from our extensive fleet of motor vehicles. We will be adding to these emissions when a new Bunker C generating comes on-line".
The effect on the island would be dramatic and it would be somewhat devastating to the environment. The island of Abaco surrounded by a reef and mangroves which projects our beaches from erosion. Many concerned people are concerned that there will be a creation of acid rain and it will destroy the reefs and kill of many of the fauna. The use of Bunker C has the potential to lower the cost of electricity as it is the next cheapest energy source after coal. It is sometimes referred to as liquid coal because it is nearly as messy and polluting as coal. Bunker C is a thick, black semi-viscous liquid similar to the liquid tar used to surface roads. It is thick enough to require being heated to push it through pipelines or be used as an engine fuel. The exhaust emissions from a Bunker C-fueled plant are high in sulfur compounds, contributing to acid rain. There will also be an output of air born toxins which are a cancer hazard and will pollute most of the air we breathe causing breathing problems such as asthma. Also there is the risk of oil spills as tankers bring the Bunker C in. As a country, we have not had any direct experience with the consequences of acid rain. However, our prevailing southeast winds will carry the exhaust plume from Wilson City over farm lands and water reserves to the north and further on to Central Abaco. Perhaps the emissions are small enough and the surrounding area is large enough to minimize the consequences.
According to the Chairman of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, Fredrick Gotlieb MP, the corporation and the government informed the island of the change in such short notice and it should've been mentioned when it was only a thought on paper, two years ago. Since the public has found there have been various town-meeting to get an understanding and appeal the decision made without the consent of the inhabitants of the island. In attendance at the meeting the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham, was in the crowd but he did not participate in the discussion. Many issues were brought to light including the fact that the Bunker C generators do not meet the emission standards in and are banned Europe which is ironic because the generator were bought and the plant is being built by Man-Diesel out of Germany. The Chairman of BEC, being of German-decent, travelled to Germany to negotiate the terms and purchase the equipment that is no longer to even be used on the continent.
The other topic to consider is the fact that most of our summer nights are spent inside of our house with battery power lighting because we are in darkness due to power cuts. The Bunker C generators would provide enough electricity to provide the island with constant current. This will be beneficial because we have such a high demand for electricity and our island is growing so fast. Our tourism will benefit because the hospitality industry will not have to worry about scheduling events around the power cuts and also it will be good for people coming to the islands to start developments.
Our thriving tourism industry is created from the condition of our environment. Nobody who is on vacation wants to see 120 foot smoke stacks spewing out plumes of black toxic smoke into the air that they are breathing. Also they will not want to breathing toxic fumes when they take regular breathes outside. The island is surrounded by the second largest barrier reef which is a huge attraction and also protects the shores of the intercostals communities.
The Bahamas Electricity Corporation is a government run monopoly. It is a natural monopoly because it would cost more for two companies to supply the entire market because it is so small. The only means of generating electricity in the Bahamas is by either stealing it or setting up your own solar system, which are extremely rare.
In my opinion the power station should be built and the generators installed but an alternative fuel source should be used to minimize the output of hazardous toxins. There is a dire need for new technology and if we want to develop from a third world country to a country recognized globally, small sacrifices have to be made to ensure that we can have a strong industry. If the generators are still used but consume diesel instead of Bunker C it will be more expensive to purchase the petroleum but it will cost less to maintain and currently we have trained technicians who are experienced in the field of diesel powered generators. BEC's primary vision and objective, "Is not only to provide a safe, reliable and cost effective source of power throughout our archipelago, but also to be a strong partner in the business of nation building, enabling the Government to attract even more discerning investors to our country," which is ironic because there is a standard fuel charge and if diesel was burnt instead of Bunker C the bills would said to be increase even thought treating Bunker C cost more and is a much more expensive product in the long run. Many people are concerned that the reason their bills will increase because of the building of the power plant. There bills should not increase due to the fact that BEC has to adjust to the demand in business. Also it has been brought to light that BEC should make a treaty with other government agencies concerned with the environment in case a spill did occur BEC would assume full responsibility and would have the necessary equipment to clean up and repair the damage caused by the spill if there was any.
Does the risk outweigh the reward? Can we have constant electricity throughout with damaging our beautiful environment? Is the government capable of monitoring of monitoring BEC so that it does not harm the environment and controls the output of toxins into the environment? Can the government afford this installment without increasing the electricity bills of the residents? The government in turn is going to be fully responsible for any of the negative effects this installment brings to the country, after all it is a government owned subsidy. Another point I would like to make is that all the citizens of The Bahamas should be terrified at the thought of BEC or any other government-run corporation policing the inevitable fuel spills and the necessary steps of containment and clean-up. BEC should be made to put up a multi-million dollar bond to someone like "Friends of the Environment" who can then purchase the necessary equipment needed for fuel and oil spill cleanup.
I find the hesitation to use diesel instead of Bunker C fuel incomprehensible. The effect of heavy fuel oil on health and environment is unquestionable. Recognize that there are no plans to use scrubbers or other means to reduce the pollution emitted by this plant. The proposed tall smokestacks simply disperse the emissions more widely.
Diesel is also a polluting fuel, but represents the "lesser of evils." To suggest that Abaconians bring higher utilities bills on themselves is disingenuous and seems to indict and penalize those who ask for a cleaner fuel. It suggests ready scapegoats to blame for the inevitable increasing utility bills expected with the future costs of fossil fuels and of managing the public corporation. If policy is changed to encourage private and individual power production and conservation; if net metering is introduced; if consideration for supplemental alternative energy is pursued; cannot demand and use of diesel fuel stabilize or decrease?
Yes, I understand that the Wilson City plant is "a done deal." The generators are on Abaco. Contracts were signed; money was paid; commitments were made long before our community was aware of the plan. The opposition to the plant was futile from the outset. However, perhaps there is still chance for persuasion to use cleaner fuel. Perhaps our community can hold government and BEC accountable to assure proper care and maintenance. Perhaps government will become more transparent and consider public consultation before future development. I believe we as a community must continue to make our voices heard to assure these goals.