“Gebe will stabilize power before the end of the year”

POSTED: 10/2/15 12:39 PM

St. Maarten – Utility Company Gebe is forced to cut power because of technical issues with several of the generators at its Cay Bay power plant for the past weeks, Chief Financial Officer René Gartner said at a press conference yesterday.

The power cuts affect several areas on the island and Gebe says it is working to stabilize the problems. Technicians at the plant had to take so-called load-shedding measures (that consumers experience as power cuts) to supply the island with electricity and water due to mechanical issues with one of its oldest and smallest generators. Gebe will stabilize the power “before the end of the year.”

Once the generator developed mechanical failures, a cool-down period was necessary before technicians could start working on it, for the health and safety of the workers. The workers worked through the heat to fix the engines.

The company plans an open house for students, members of the press and government officials to offer a first-hand look at what it takes to maintain the generators, Gartner said. “The problem stems from having to defer from Gebe’s yearly maintenance schedule. This problem occurred when one of the engines went off line and we decided to fix it right away.”

“We have our maintenance schedule for 2015, and we were pretty much on target,” said Chief of Operations and Plant Manager Kenrick Chittick. “One of the units had to get overhauled and there was a particular component in the engine which we normally did not have to change but we notice that it was damaged and we had to decide to change it. We decided to do this but we had to order the parts and instead of four weeks to fix, it took eight weeks. We had to decide to take the risk and wait until it has to be looked at according to the schedule or fix it right away. We decided to fix it right away. There were some delays in the parts coming to the island. We moved to the second engine that was due for overhaul and that took some extra time too. In the meantime we had to do some major load shedding,” said Chittick.

The outages on Monday, 28 September throughout the island were a result of a fire and mechanical failure at the Cay Bay power plant. One of the medium sized power generation units caught fire which was quickly extinguished by the fire systems and staff at the power plant. The power plant personnel had to deal with one of the larger units developing a mechanical problem. After a thorough inspection of the medium sized unit, this generator was brought back online. Later in the day on Monday the larger unit was also brought back online.

Leroy Tjon Tam Pan is the head of electrical maintenance. “The problem was serious, the guys had to take off the engine and they had to put out the fire, lucky enough nobody was hurt.”

Chittick said he commends the Gebe-staff that continues to work to improve the quality of service. “Normally the engine takes about 8 hours to cool down but the guys started wearing gloves and place clothes on their feet just to start to fix the engines.”

Gartner wants to also commend the hotels for assisting them during this difficult time. “The hotels have been using their generator at times to allow them to do less load-shedding in the area. We try to keep the commercial districts on such as, Philipsburg, hotels and schools during school hours,” said Gartner.

“We would like to publicly thank the hotels for always assisting us when we call them and tell them that we would like them to turn on their generators and take off Gebe,” says Distribution Manager Ramiro Hernandez. “They do it and we can focus the power to other districts. We are working to create stability once again.”

Responding to a question from this newspaper Chittick said that there are 15 engines in operation, the biggest unit is engine 18. There are 5 old engines that are not online while some of the operating engines are in place since 1978 to early 2009.

Gebe is looking at getting some new engines, Gartner said. A Canadian and Dutch group is conducting a study that will be completed by the end of the year. “We plan to limit the amount of outages we have and I really would like to stress that Gebe is working to improve its services and would like to apologize to the public for any inconvenience we caused.”


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