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Posted: Friday 3 October, 2008 at 1:00 PM

    No definite word on cause of Needsmust fire
    Authorities shine light on power outages


    By VonDez Phipps


    BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – IN response to the mysterious fire at the Needsmust Power Station and the resulting widespread blackouts experienced throughout the island, a press conference was held yesterday (Oct. 2) at the Power Station to address the situation.


    Manager at the Power Station, John Channer, explained that at approximately 03:45 a.m. on October 2, the Needsmust Power Station lost its two largest engines (Mirrlees8MB430 and Mirrlees12MB430) due to fire on the control panels of both engines.


    He informed that the St. Kitts and Nevis Fire and Rescue Services was contacted and arrived on-site at 03:49 and were able to bring the situation under control at about 05:30. He also noted that two staff members were treated at the JNF General Hospital for smoke inhalation and minor injuries and were later discharged.


    The normal supply of energy during peak periods is approximately 24 megawatts and some 15 megawatts during off-peak periods. However, the reported operating capacity at the station was reduced to an estimated 15.9 megawatts, leaving a deficit of 8.1 megawatts and thereby resulting in forced outages in certain areas of the island.


    Channer pointed out that although preliminary observation revealed there was significant damage to the largest engine (Mirrlees12md430) at about 5:30 a.m., operators and engineers proceeded to carry out partial restoration to the system by putting online the available engines in the B Station.


    He added that the feeders which were energised at 7:30 a.m. included those that serve Cayon, Bayfords, Canada and SSMC zones, and between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., the Sandy Point, Port Zante, Basseterre South and sections of Basseterre North feeders were also energised.


    Channer gave a detailed description in relation to the station’s five counteractive measures that must be applied in order to restore its full functionality.


    “[Firstly] There is to be final commissioning work of caterpillar number one, which, if our assessment is right, should be completed by Monday, October 6. And this engine being back on the system will depend on our acceptance after the commissioning is done.
    [Secondly], based on our preliminary investigations, an attempt is being made currently to provide a temporary control mechanism to facilitate the return of the Miirlees8MB430 engine [the smaller of the two damaged generators]. [Thirdly], also based on preliminary investigation, the Miirlees12MB430 is expected to be out of commission for some time, but we cannot yet say how long.


    “[Fourthly], due to the circumstances regarding the Miirlees12MB430, the government is now exploring the possibility of getting standby generators, in terms of renting. And, finally, we have no option, of course, but to engage in load shedding...and as such, schedules will be released to the press on a periodic basis to advise customers as to the areas that would be out of power.”


    Channer said buying a new engine would be discussed for later implementation, and he also stated further options that may be undertaken.


    “We have some options during the day; we can take off significant loads off the system, like the ECCB and the other big users of electricity and allow them to use their generators in order to facilitate the process. We are optimistic that maybe about mid-October, we might be able to get back the Miirlees8MB430, and we are working on that we can alleviate the power outages and the load shedding system,” Channer explained.


    Minister of Public Works, Utilities, Transport and Posts Hon. Dr. Asim Martin also reviewed the known facts of the fire and expressed hope in trying to return the electricity situation to a state of normalcy. 

    He commended the staff at the power station for actually being able to restore some areas in “quick time”; the Fire and Rescue Services for their quick response in controlling the fire; and the Royal St. Christopher Police Force and St. Kitts-Nevis Defence Force for securing and protecting the area.


    Dr. Martin noted though that the commissioning of one of the generators that was offline for maintenance, scheduled for Monday, would provide an additional 4.4 megawatts, bringing total capacity up to 20.3 megawatts.    ~~Adz:Right~~


    However, there were still many questions unanswered in relation to the cause of the fire. Channer said he had no knowledge of how it started and maintained that “the operators just reported that they saw fire from the control room”. He emphasised that “the investigations, I would presume, would give us some idea of how this all started, but, at this time, we are unable to say what caused the fire”.


    Dr. Martin, in his response, stated that “we were able to contact our representatives for the generators and they will be coming in to make a thorough investigation; thorough analysis on what probably might have been the cause of the fire, but there is no certainty at this point about the cause of the fire. What we are doing is to ensure that we are in a position at this moment to give our customers who are being affected a reliable supply of electricity under the circumstances that we are at this moment”.


    The load shedding schedule published yesterday gave distinct time periods in which specific areas of the island would be affected. However, it was noted that the schedule is not being adhered to, and so customers are asked to use surge protectors to safeguard their appliances.


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