Extensive power outage straps business in the Old Capital

Multiple power outages in Belize City on Friday spilled over into the weekend and into a four-hour long outage on Monday, shutting down the entire city, from Mile 3 on the Western Highway to Mile 1 � on the Northern Highway - a mile shy of the Belize Electricity Limited's corporate headquarters - leading to closures of at least two Belize City high schools early this afternoon.

The Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) issued a statement this evening saying that power supply had been restored to Belize City at 4:19, four hours after power had been cut minutes after noon.

"The power outage became necessary after a switch at the Belize City Substation burnt, which caused a power outage to portions of the city at 9:16 a.m.," said BEL. "This substation serves the entire Belize City. When in working condition, the switch facilitates isolation of equipment in the substation. This allows BEL to work on sections of the substation without the need for a power outage to the entire Belize City. However, with the burnt switch, it became necessary to shut down the entire substation to facilitate repairs."

BEL said that the likely cause of the damage to the switch was "overheating."

The company apologized for the inconveniences, and commented that, "BEL had to postpone several of its projects when it ran into financial difficulties last year and could not get approval for its capital programs."

That approval would have come from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), with which BEL is locked in a dispute in the Supreme Court.

There were at least three power outages at the Belize Biltmore Plaza on Friday where environmentalists and various people from the private sector and NGO community from at home and abroad were meeting to discuss the management of chemicals used and produced in Belize.

The blackouts spilled over into Saturday. The company had issued a release saying that the planned outage on Feeder 11, Zone 1, which included Lords Bank and portions of the Northern Highway from the junction with the Burrell Boom Road to Double Run, including Sandhill and Crooked Tree, had been extended to replace conductors to accommodate increased power demand.

One source suggested that the Friday outages were retaliation for an order the Department of Environment sent over to the Belize Electric Company Limited (BECOL) Thursday evening, calling on the company to suspend operations at Chalillo following multiple reports that the recent rains were triggering another sedimentation wave.

There has been no official information about that order.

Amandala reached BECOL's vice president of operations, Stephen Usher, this evening, and he informed us that even though DOE's Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria, did issue an order to them on Thursday, they had received a second correspondence from the DOE on Friday, revoking the order for BECOL to shut down Chalillo. The shutdown was never effected, said Usher.

Usher said that they had not received a clear explanation of the reason for the DOE's order, but it appears that the dam was being closed so that DOE could find out more about what has been causing the sedimentation in the Macal that has been the subject of widespread public debate.

Usher said that BECOL has yet to get a report on the recently returned results of water sample tests sent abroad to the USA to look at the chemical profile of the water.

(BECOL sells its power to BEL, and the two are sister companies owned by Fortis Inc. of Canada.)