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Equipment failure sparked power cut, says Belco

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Dennis Pimentel, the president of Belco (File photograph)
Wayne Caines, the president of Ascendant (File photograph)

An equipment failure led to a “cascade” of failsafe shutdowns that cut off electricity to the entire island last week, power firm Belco announced today.

Dennis Pimentel, the utility company’s president, said that the blackout remained under investigation but early indications pointed to a breakdown in the machinery.

He added: “Our operations personnel proceeded to perform a standard operating procedure, however during this process there was an equipment failure which led to a cascade of built-in safety mechanisms being triggered that ultimately shut-off power to the entire island.

“When the fault occurred, the safety mechanisms performed as designed and prevented what could have been serious damage to the generating equipment and grid and taken much longer to repair and restore power.”

He apologised to customers for the “inconvenience” the outage caused last Friday.

Mr Pimentel said: “It should be noted that Belco is one of the most reliable small island power plants in the world and this outage was a rare occurrence, the first such incident in more than 15 years, with the previous outage having been caused by a catastrophic fire.

“Our staff take great pride in their work and performance record and were equally disappointed and frustrated when the outage occurred.”

Walter Roban, the home affairs minister, said tonight that he had contacted the Regulatory Authority of Bermuda concerning the power outage.

Mr Roban said Belco “must be held accountable” for the disruptions, and said the Government was “most concerned” about the blackout and other outages that are occurring with “greater frequency”.

He added he had asked the RA for recommendations on how the blackout should be addressed, which could include “stronger penalties for non-compliance”.

He said: “I expect a report on this as a matter of urgency.”

A spokesman for Ascendant, Belco’s parent company, said that a report on the power cut will be submitted to the Regulatory Authority “as a matter of urgency”.

He explained: “Power was restored to customers in a phased approach beginning with the hospital by 1pm, the City of Hamilton by 3pm, the majority of customers by 5pm and all remaining customers by 7pm.”

Wayne Caines, the Ascendant president, added: “We at the Ascendant Group of Companies, and especially Belco, are acutely aware of the impact Covid-19 has had on our economy and way of life.

“Indeed, Belco took a number of actions to assist the community during shelter in place such as a bill deferment plan and dedicated customer service credit team for those struggling financially.

“Our priority now is to ensure our report into this incident is thorough and accurate and we will provide full transparency as the report will be submitted to the Regulatory Authority and will be made public.”

Mr Caines said: “Let me again apologise to our customers and especially retail businesses who have already had a very difficult year.

“I am highly aware that a power outage is never convenient but this time of year, in particular, is especially difficult.

“My promise is that we will do everything possible to avoid a repeat of this incident.”

The Regulatory Authority said that the outage was likely to affect annual electricity performance indicators.

Nigel Burgess, the RA’s interim head of regulation, highlighted earlier that service standards issued in April last year set performance indicators for Belco.

He added: “Specifically, the indicators relating to the reliability of electricity service can have a financial impact if the utility fails to meet the annual targets set by the RA.”

An RA spokeswoman said that performance indicators related to the reliability of electricity service were based on a “system average interruption frequency index” and a “system average interruption duration index”.

She explained that the SAIFI “essentially measures how often a customer can expect to experience an outage in a year”.

She added the SAIDI “essentially measures the annual average outage duration per customer”.

The spokeswoman said: “The recent blackout will likely have an impact on these reliability indicators as both the number of sustained interruptions and the sum of the duration of outages would have increased.”

To read the RA’s response about reliability indicators in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.

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Published December 23, 2020 at 8:21 am (Updated December 23, 2020 at 10:34 am)

Equipment failure sparked power cut, says Belco

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