Sunday, June 23, 2024

Electricity supply issues still threatening Ambergris Caye; nationwide load shedding scheduled

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The country’s energy crisis continues, but Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) is tackling the issue as best as possible. To maintain power stability on the national grid, BEL is implementing daily load shedding or planned outages for some regions of the country. This has become necessary as BEL currently does not have enough generation capacity in the country after its primary provider in Mexico has been unable to supply them due to power demands on their side.
On Wednesday, May 8th, the company advised its customers that load shedding may become necessary for various sections of the country to maintain the grid’s stability. Over the past days, daily load-shedding schedules inform customers that the situation can quickly change based on electricity demands and available generation supply. Most of the reported planned outages have been happening on the mainland starting around 3PM and 7PM, depending on the areas to be affected.
Most of Ambergris Caye has not been affected by these planned power outages; however, many of its residents were affected by a power supply fluctuation on Sunday, May 5th. Many residents reported losing appliances due to the power surges. Power breakers burned out as well, affecting businesses. While complaints have been filed with BEL for losses, those affected have not confirmed reimbursement.
Upgrading BEL equipment
One of the power generation equipment at BEL is the Westlake generator. It is currently being upgraded to produce 30 Megawatts from its current maximum output of 19 Megawatts. According to BEL, the upgrade will be completed by Friday, May 12th. The General Manager of Employer and Corporate Services, Dawn Nuñez, added that once the Westlake generator is back online, it will add to the necessary power supply needed in the country. “The local in-country generation supply at this point is 95 Megawatts. With the additional 30 Megawatts, it will put us in a much better position,” she said. Nuñez said that these upgrades in the Westlake generator will assist when the supply from Mexico is low; however, she emphasized that, at times, there can be other causes for power interruptions.

What about Ambergris Caye?
The power supply to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, is hanging by a thread as the current submarine cable connecting the island with the national grid on the mainland is about to expire. In addition, the cable is maxed out in terms of power rating. Its capacity is 17 Megawatts, which the island has already surpassed. BEL plans to install a second submarine cable to avoid a power crisis on Belize’s prime tourism destination. However, this is not an easy feat. BEL’s Manager of System Planning and Engineering, Sheena Simpson, shared that they anticipated that the load would increase from the island and that the submarine cable would not be installed in 2024 due to the tendering and procurement process. They are looking to start work on the submarine cable in 2025. In the meantime, they have purchased a gas turbine unit that will be installed on Ambergris Caye by the end of May.

Ambergris Caye experienced more than 14 hours without electricity on May 1st when an unplanned power outage affected the entire island. BEL said the extended power outage was due to a critical failure of a major component of a single transformer in their Maskall Substation on the mainland. The damaged equipment was replaced, and power was restored to Ambergris Caye; however, until the nationwide power crisis is resolved, islanders should be prepared for more planned outages.

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