Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Unsustainable power services may pose a threat to the tourism industry

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The power crisis in Belize is ongoing, with planned power outages, also known as ‘load shedding,’ happening daily across the country. This measure, implemented by Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), stabilizes the national grid and meets power demands. Power rationing is a concern in areas like San Pedro, Ambergris Caye as it impacts the tourism industry. Many stakeholders have reported losses due to this issue but remain hopeful that if the crisis is addressed correctly, it will not significantly affect the country’s leading tourism destination.
The recent schedule for power outages includes most areas on the mainland, and Ambergris Caye is no exception. The northern and southern parts of the island have been experiencing power outages almost daily, a couple of hours at a time, and downtown San Pedro and its surrounding areas have been facing brief power interruptions. Despite efforts by BEL to maintain stable power in the town core of San Pedro, some businesses, including restaurants, have suffered losses. Some of these establishments remained anonymous and mentioned that their perishable products require proper refrigeration. Some hotels have had to issue refunds, and stores have also reported losses.
Furthermore, some small businesses have had to invest in generators, increasing operating expenses. Larger enterprises with installed generators have also seen an increase in their cost of operations due to the fuel needed to power the generators for such an extended period. Another reported issue is that during power outages, some residents have experienced damage to household items due to voltage fluctuations. It is unclear whether BEL has compensated anyone for these losses.
The power outages typically begin at 5 PM in various parts of the country. According to BEL, these planned power cuts are necessary when the energy consumption exceeds electricity generation. BEL stated, “Our power outage schedule is determined by energy demand and generation forecasts, which can change rapidly throughout the day.” San Pedro, Ambergris Caye is linked to the national grid through an underwater cable with a capacity of 17 Megawatts, which is currently insufficient to meet the island’s energy needs. When Ambergris Caye’s energy consumption surpasses the cable’s capacity, power outages are necessary to prevent overloading the mainland connection and damage to the underwater cable. BEL is planning to install a second underwater cable by 2027. In the meantime, a mobile gas turbine will be installed on Ambergris Caye. Although it was initially set to be operational by the end of May, it is now expected to be fully installed by mid-June.

mobile gas turbine will be installed on Ambergris Caye

The Belizean community has expressed frustration over this situation and continues to call for a solution, as the scheduled power outages are expected to persist well into June. On Wednesday, June 5th, BEL announced that the anticipated peak power demand nationwide for that day would be approximately 124 megawatts. However, only 107 megawatts were available, sourced from various energy sources, including hydropower, biomass, solar, and fossil fuel. The remaining energy required is purchased from BEL’s primary supplier in Mexico. The supply from Mexico amounts to 54 megawatts and is only accessible during the daytime, as the supplier in Mexico is facing its own power demand issues. BEL stated that power cutbacks from Mexico to Belize may continue throughout this week.

Chalillo Dam

Two of BEL’s leading power suppliers in the country are temporarily unavailable for another week. One is Belcogen from northern Belize, which supplies BEL with 11.5 Megawatts. Belcogen usually provides backup energy while other suppliers’ generators are undergoing maintenance. Consequently, BEL now relies mainly on the country’s hydroelectric facilities, including the Chalillo Dam in the Cayo District. The water level at this facility has been decreasing due to the prolonged heat wave affecting the region and the heavy reliance on hydroelectricity. Currently, electricity companies are trying to reduce the use of this energy source to prevent water levels from decreasing further. They hope the rainy season will start soon and alleviate this problem.

Gas Turbine at BEL’s West Lake Facility

In the meantime, BEL management has noted that they are experiencing challenges with factors such as dust contamination and high energy consumption levels. This is putting a strain on the electricity system and natural resources. As a result, customers are asked to conserve energy to reduce the excessive strain on the national grid. This will help maintain a stable grid until necessary improvements are made. One of these improvements is the newly renovated West Lake Gas turbine, which is in its final stage of being fully commissioned. This equipment upgrade for power generation will help address the energy problem but may also increase the cost of electricity service in Belize.

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