Published On: Mon, Jun 3rd, 2024

Industry standards be damned!

Utilities company NV GEBE had to do something quick to answer to the growing frustration about the power cuts that have been plaguing everybody’s life on St. Maarten these days. So, they put out a press release.

See: https://news.sx/business/general-public-statement-nv-gebe

The attempt of putting customers at ease this way is not going to work. At least, that is what we believe, and we will explain why this is so. Based on the press release, two diesel generators are past their technical lifespan of thirty years, and they produce – when working – 18 percent of total demand. These generators are described as unreliable. Question: nobody saw this coming? Nobody thought: oh, we’ll have to invest in new generators or in alternative ways of producing our energy before all hell breaks loose? Since these generators are still there causing trouble, the answer must be: NO! Nobody saw this coming. Or: everybody saw it coming but they thought: who cares?

GEBE also emphasized the importance of its preventive maintenance program. We would think that such a program, providing that it is properly executed, would prevent power cuts. Because this is not happening the conclusion must be that GEBE does not pay enough attention to the execution of this program, or that executing it is so costly that the company stretches it till breaking point.

That is nothing new. Utilities companies around the world – even major oil companies with refineries – you would think that they would be very very careful with their maintenance schedules. We found out that this is not so, Some of these companies would actually be proud to announce that they had postponed required maintenance and that there were no negative consequences; all for the benefit of the bottom line. Who knows, maybe this is the case around the Caribbean as well. It would explain some of their constant power outages as well. Look at the situation in Curacao, for example.

Our GEBE is a government-owned company. There is of course a management team in place to do the actual work, but in the end, the owner – the government – is responsible for whatever happens. The conclusion must be that consecutive governments have ignored the fact that two aging diesel generators would have to be replaced – sooner rather than later.

It is impossible to explain such negligent behaviour away because it is, well….. hello! NEGLIGENT! And the people who rely on electricity to operate their businesses and private citizens, who would like to have some light in their homes in the evening, are the victims.

Repairing this situation is complicated. There is no such thing as a quick fix. You cannot order a diesel generator on Amazon and expect delivery within a week. The company that makes these machines – the Finnish Wärtsilä Corporation – does not have them in stock It produces them after you place the order.

In December 2016 GEBE received an 11.3-MegaWatt diesel generator from Wärtsilä. The company claimed at the time that the new generator would improve the reliability of its power plant. With the arrival of the new generator, GEBE had fifteen Wärtsilä machines at its disposal to produce electricity.

Almost eight years after the arrival of this generator, GEBE finds itself once more in a position where it is incapable of providing its customer base with a reliable supply of electricity. Will it ever improve? Never say never, but when we read that GEBE no longer meets the (low) industry standard of N-1, we have our doubts.

Maybe it is time to look at those who benefit from providing GEBE with the fuel it needs to operate its generators. That could give us all the answers we need.

And then a fire broke out at 6:20am on Sunday morning at the GEBE power plant in Cay Bay.

For Immediate Release
June 2, 2024
NV GEBE would hereby like to report that there was a fire at the Cay Bay Power Plant.  This morning, around 6:20 AM, a fire broke out on Engine 9 at the NV GEBE Power Plant due to issues with the auxiliary boiler. Engine 9 has been in operation for over 30 years, surpassing its technical lifespan. The fire department was called in immediately and successfully contained the fire, preventing major damage.
A standby generator was activated to assist with load capacity during the incident. Engine 8 sustained some cabling damage due to the fire on Engine 9, and assessments on Engine 8 are ongoing.
We are pleased to report that all personnel at the power plant are safe, and no injuries were sustained. The safety of our staff is of utmost importance to us, and we are thankful that everyone is unharmed.
NV GEBE would like to express our gratitude to the fire department for their prompt response, which averted any major damages to our power plant. We also commend our dedicated staff for their hard work and cooperation during this incident, ensuring the safety and reliability of our operations remains our top priority.
More information will be provided as it becomes available as a full damage assessment is ongoing.
Photo provided. See below….