Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Belizeans endure the impact of scheduled power outages

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Over the past weeks, Belize has grappled with planned power outages, a measure Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) is taking to stabilize the national grid and meet power demands. Despite the challenges, BEL is diligently working to minimize power interruptions and enhance its self-sufficiency in electricity generation, especially after its primary provider from Mexico reduced the supply. However, these necessary actions have not been without consequences, with disruptions to daily life and the commercial sector in areas like San Pedro Town and Ambergris Caye.
The recent power outage in portions of San Pedro on Tuesday, May 14th, lasting for about four hours, had significant repercussions. Some schools were forced to cancel classes, while others had to reschedule when the electricity was restored. Private schools on the island even advised parents of class cancellations on Wednesday due to the power interruptions. This issue is not confined to the education sector; the tourism industry, a vital part of San Pedro’s economy, has also been adversely affected.
While large businesses are equipped with backup generators, medium and small establishments have struggled with the crisis. Some of these have been forced to close during the power outages, losing precious business. During the over 14-hour power outage on May 1st, many of these small establishments reported perished products that needed refrigeration, while others, to avoid this, packed their perishable items with bags of ice and closed their business for the day. The proprietors, who wished to remain anonymous, shared that it was a loss they may not recover anytime soon. As a result, some of these entrepreneurs have indebted themselves by buying small generators. In addition, some residents have felt the burden of replacing appliances that have burned out because of the power outages and sporadic surges. Most have logged their complaints, but the power company has confirmed no compensation.
Fortunately, the recent power interruptions have not affected the primary health facilities on the island because they depend on a generator. These facilities must always have power, as it can threaten patients hooked to specific devices, such as electric heart pumps and oxygen concentrators.
BEL has indicated that planned power outages will decrease after upgrading one of its main gas turbines. The newly renovated West Lake Gas turbine is online, supporting the power grid. BEL said the gas turbine operates at 50% of its rated capacity. Once fully commissioned, it will add 30 Megawatts to the existing 95 Megawatts of in-country generation. The peak demand countrywide has been registered at 127 Megawatts.
Meanwhile, San Pedro’s energy needs are treated differently. While the island is fed to the national grid through an old submarine cable, BEL’s solution to the island’s demands is to install a second underwater cable. This is scheduled to happen between this year and 2027. In the meantime, they have acquired a gas turbine that is expected to be installed on the island by the end of May.
Currently, 50% of the country’s electricity generation comes from hydropower. The remaining needed has been acquired from other renewable sources in the country and Mexico. As such, the Government of Belize has targeted generating 85% of the country’s power supply from renewable resources by 2027, focusing on hydroelectric plants.

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