Blackouts due to poor decisions, brain drain, bad maintenance- David Patterson

Last Updated on Saturday, 6 April 2024, 8:55 by Denis Chabrol

Mr David Patterson

Opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) parliamentarian, David Patterson on Friday called out the private sector’s silence on the poor state of electricity generation in Guyana due to bad investments, brain drain and a botched maintenance plan.

The Guyana government this week said there could be management changes at the Guyana Power and Light and Power Producers and Distributors Inc, and foreign technical workers would be hired if none is found locally.  Government is also buying additional generation sets to cater for a demand of 165 to 200 megawatts while efforts are being made to repair existing sets.

Mr Patterson, who was Public Infrastructure Minister in the APNU+AFC administration from 2015 to 2020, stopped short of accusing the private sector of being biased against the then David Granger-led government by constantly registering its concerns unlike now under the People’s Progressive Party Civic administration. “They (private sector) have been surprisingly muted during this period…Anything that affected them during the coalition time, they would have created riot and they would have been writing us and making public press statements. The Private Sector Commission has not said a word, the Georgetown Chamber, the Berbice Chamber of the chamber up Essequibo. Not a single word have they said anything about the loss in business,” he said.

But GCCI President Kester Hutson pointed out that that city business support organisation had issued a statement in November 2023 on the state of the electricity sector and had “engagements with the subject ministry and GPL (Guyana Power and Light).” In relation to the recent spate of blackouts, Mr Hutson told Demerara Waves Online News that “our understanding is clearer with latest engagements by President Ali on the subject.”

While government has blamed the APNU+AFC administration for no investment to replace 30-year old generation sets and a lack of maintenance, Mr Patterson accused the administration of creating the conditions to chase away senior technical electricity sector workers, buying second-hand fossil fuel generation sets and having a poor maintenance plan. “As soon as the PPP returned to office, they fired all the senior technical staff on the pretext that they were super-salaried. Since then, more than 95 percent of the technical staff has resigned, taking up international job offers since, in their own words, they were unable to stand the ‘cuss down’ culture under  the new GPL,” he said.

He attributed the current 30 to 40 megawatt generation shortfall to several generation sets at Kingston being down and the new plants at Garden of Eden “are operating below their listed capacity, all because of poor maintenance practices.” Mr Patterson said engines seldom achieve maximum output even after returning from major overhauls and the running programmes for engines were not properly adhered to, and spares are seldom readily available.  He said the GPL’s maintenance of its generation sets have also run into problems due to the fact that the power company was grappling with a number of technical problems and the need to supply electricity. “GPL has more than 20 maintenance overhauls scheduled for 2024, some of which were deferred from last year. Unfortunately, due to the shortage of generating capacity these maintenance programmes will have to deferred since taking any of the generating sets offline will increase the energy deficit,” he said.

Mr Patterson boasted that, despite misinformation being peddled by the PPP, the coalition administration had purchased more than 60 megawatts of new electricity generation capacity, upgraded more than 1,000 kilometres of high and medium voltage lines, installed new transformers and boosted the protection network. “These actions resulted in a more reliable electricity supply and a reduction in the frequency of blackouts,” he said.

He also said the APNU+AFC administration had planned to build a 200 megawatt natural gas-fired electricity generation station for US$500 million, government had invested in dual-powered 45.6 megawatt plant. Instead, he said government was buying used fossil fuel-only generators to bridge the demand gap between now and when the Wales natural gas power plant comes on stream next year. “The PPP version is to mothball all our existing plants, thus making any early investment to be sunk cost,” he said.

However, the GCCI President said those small generation sets that were purchased now to bridge the demand could be used elsewhere. “The situation required a quick response that is solution driven. The delay time and cost to supply a new genset was a hindrance. Those gensets can be repurposed at remote locations where needed,” Mr Hutson said.

In addition to the 200 megawatt facility, he said the administration had planned to buy 100 megawatts of additional capacity between 2020 and 2022. “Sadly, these plans had been scrapped by the PPP who placed all their eggs in a single basket- being the Wales gas-to-shore project, a project, which on its current trajectory, will not achieve its objectives,” he said.