Ambergris Caye’s Rapid Growth Puts Stressful Demand on Electrical Consumption
A large delegation of BEL employees, both national and local, addressed a small audience of San Pedro residents on all issues pertaining go the smooth delivery of electrical services to the Island.
The public learned that electrical power comes from four hydroelectric companies and from Mexico. Interesting was the explanation of the five main causes of failure in the system:
- 1. Failure of Substation equipment
- 2. Overload due to rapid growth
- 3. Corrosion and salt contamination
- 4. Loss of supply from Mexico
- 5. Weather-related problems, including lightning
The engineers explained that the increased number of blackouts being experienced during the past three years and even more recently is due to the rapid growth of San Pedro and the high demand of their services. San Pedro is growing at a rate FOUR TIMES FASTER than the rest of Belize. This puts a lot of stress on the system and thus the need for upgrading.
The engineers explained in detail that the island’s system is kept alive with a direct line from Bomba on the mainland to the Caye. This comprises of six miles of overhead lines, 11 miles of submarine cable, and finally six miles of overhead lines from south of the island up to Ramon's Village. From Ramon’s, there is a network of underground cables up to the substation. Any failure occurs by one of the above mentioned causes and a break at the weakest link of lines and transformers.
Now the electrifying news is that revamped transformer equipment is currently being set up at the Bomba Station that will stabilize the island’s system and cope with the high demands for the next ten years.
For long term projections to keep the island’s system running smoothly and effectively, BEL announced that they are already planning and making progress on a second submarine cable to come from the mainland to the north of the Island. This was in response to Ambergris Today's question on an alternative plan in case there is a failure with the present submarine cable system.
Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the Ambergris Today
Belize Electric sees a brighter future for the power grid on Ambergris Caye
The utility message from last night was pretty straightforward:
- We feel your pain (especially BEL’s chief engineer. Literally, as he lives here on Ambergris Caye and was without power and water like the rest of the community).
- While power outages have been much worse in the past, we’re not satisfied with where things are today.
- Things will be getting better, in the near future.
- That near future could come as soon as Sunday, when a 25 megawatt transformer is scheduled to go online in the system that supplies the island with power.
What does that mean and how is that a big deal?
Think back to the Christmas blackout. BEL anticipated a surge in demand and figured that it would top out at 8.5 megawatts. But when everyone lit up, apparently demand surged over 11 megawatts.
The sucking sound you hear is equivalent to your cistern running dry. But followed by darkness and an eerie silence. Silent night, holy night.
The 25 megawatt transformer ensures that the system will have the capacity to meet future demand for some years to come.
So here’s the good news: Redundancy. (Great word. Look it up.)
Mexico is currently building parallel power lines to the Belize border.
That means if one fails, the other keeps pumping power into Belize. Like a modern day string of Christmas tree lights.
Of course, when the power hits the BEL single-strand infrastructure all the redundancy in the world (of Mexico) won’t matter.
So, redundancy is BEL’s next holy grail. And we could see it as soon as 2019.
BEL has been working on a couple of options for running another power line to the island. One would begin at Maskall Substation on the mainland and travel northeast to the water’s edge where a second submarine cable would travel to north Ambergris Caye. A second option would send a submarine cable out from Belize City to Stake Bank Caye and then hopscotch from cay to cay north, providing power along the way, to Caye Caulker and finally to south Ambergris Caye.
The current submarine cable is the most reliable part of the entire power feed, according to BEL engineers. And it has room for more capacity, about another five years of growth in demand.
If it should ever fail, however, the 11 miles of cable would have to be brought to the surface for repair. And help would be needed from outside the country to accomplish that. BEL says the island would be without power for three days. Minimum.
So, a second cable is a good thing. Right?
Damn right. Bring it on!
Last night’s meeting covered a lot of territory. Here’s some of the rest.
Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the Bound for Belize Blog
BEL holds public meeting regarding power outage issues in San Pedro
Delivering an overview of BEL’s operations on the island was Senior Manager of Energy and Materials Supply, Ernesto ‘Neto’ Gomez, who informed the attendees how the company obtains its power. “We purchase power from Mexico and also from four hydroelectric companies within Belize,” said Gomez. “These include the Chalillo Dam, Mollejon Plant, Hydro Bio Plant, and the Belcogen Plant in Orange Walk.” In addition to these sources of power, BEL has back- up systems in Belize City consisting of gas turbines and a heavy fuel oil plant in Southern Belize.
Gomez explained that there are five major reasons why San Pedro has been recently affected by severe power outages. These include ‘Failure of Substation Equipment,’ which has been addressed by installing newer equipment. Since San Pedro is growing at a rate of four times faster than any other community in Belize, this causes an overload. “We are adding a second transformer in order to take the load off the single one here in San Pedro. The new equipment has a capacity of 25,000 megawatts, which is good for 10 to 15 years before we start experiencing any issues with overloading,” said Gomez. “We are positioning ourselves for the future.” With this valuable addition, the outages should disappear, or become very minimal.
Another issue contributing to the power interruptions on the island is ‘Corrosion and Salt Contamination.’ When it rains, the washing away of the salt can cause a series of sparks on the light posts, which can start a fire, and the effects of the corrosion due to the salt can create hot spots which will burn the cable connections and thus an outage has to come in place in order to address the issue. According to Gomez, the other reason for power failure on the island is due to loss of power from Mexico, which happens about three to four times per year. However, at a recent meeting with their Mexican counterparts, that problem is on its way to being addressed, since Mexico is building a double power line, with the connection point in Chetumal, Mexico and then to Belize. With a double connection, the power outages will be greatly reduced to almost zero, and the source of power from the northern country will be more stable.
According to Senior Manager of Transmission and Distribution Jose Moreno, besides the new equipment to be installed at the Bomba Station to stabilize the island’s system, there is a project to run a second sub-marine cable to Ambergris Caye. According to him, it will be very vital to have a second power line in order to keep the island with power at all times. “If the cable is damaged, it will take days to fix it and we will have to bring assistance from out of the country in order to deal with the issue,” said Moreno. “Thus, the plan for a second sub-marine cable is in the pipeline.” It was also briefly mentioned that a similar connection is being planned for Caye Caulker.
Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the San Pedro Sun