Thursday, 01 March 2012 02:31
By Colin Sampson
Antigua St John's - The fallout from Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer’s recent carefully staged and rigidly controlled press conference on the Wadadli Power Plant clearly has yet to settle.
This assessment is borne out by reliable reports of a GIS video documentary in development, soon to be aired on ABS TV. Expectations are that the forthcoming feature will be an attempt to finally put lingering doubts to rest concerning the condition of the Chinese-supplied generator sets.
The severely limited number of questions permitted at the press conference (only two from each journalist) ensured that many obvious but vexing questions would remain unanswered after the event was brought to a close.
Nor was the situation helped in any way by the patent attempt by the prime minister to browbeat and intimidate the assembled media workers.
The arrogance and sometimes downright bad taste amounting to rudeness that PM Spencer displayed at certain points during the proceedings could only serve to heighten public suspicion that there clearly is something the prime minister would prefer to keep hidden.
The forthcoming GIS/ABS video documentary betrays PM Spencer’s awareness that the fallout from the Wadadli Power Plant affair will remain in poisonous suspension until a skeptical public can be convinced that Antigua & Barbuda has received value for its money on the deal.
To this date, and despite several assurances from APUA General Manager Esworth Martin that a tour of the Wadadli Power Plant is in the offing, the Observer Media Group (OMG) is yet to be permitted behind the facility’s firmly closed doors. Documents delivered to OMG CEO Winston Derrick arrived without several key pages.
The myriad questions submitted by the media (at the invitation of the prime minister’s director-general of communications, Maurice Merchant) remain without any response.
As time passes, the Antigua & Barbuda public is increasingly accepting that the picture portfolio provided by Caribarena.com is an accurate representation of the true condition of the generator sets. Still, PM Spencer continues to maintain a veritable Chinese wall of silence around the Wadadli Power Plant.
In the meantime, Caribarena.com continues to receive persistent reports of feverish attempts behind those firmly closed doors (thus far apparently unsuccessful) to spruce the Wadadli Power Plant up to some kind of even marginally acceptable level.
This is why Caribarena.com was pleased to accept an invitation from Observer Media Group journalist Shelton Daniel to accompany him on a tour of the Antigua Power Company (APC) plants at Crabbes – right next door to the Wadadli Power Plant.
Owned by the Hadeed Group of Companies, the two APC plants are 17 and five years old, respectively. Together, running at peak power, they are capable of delivering 78 megawatts of electricity. This is significantly more than the 50 to 55 megawatts that Antigua requires during periods of maximum consumption.
Prior to the advent of the Wadadli Power Plant, APUA was able to provide some power generation of its own, mainly from the reconditioned Friars Hill plant. The new installation ups that capacity considerably, enabling APUA to reduce its electricity purchases from APC by some 30 percent.
The vaunted savings of $2.7M per month is expected to come from internal efficiencies arising out of improved cash flow control (from not having to fork out so much hard cash to APC all the time).
Unlike the firmly closed doors of the Wadadli Power Plant, the doors of the APC facilities at Crabbes were readily opened by courteous staff. Our little group was ushered into the office of Calid Hassad, APC general manager. Accompanied by Louis Low, contract manager for Antigua Electricity Operators (AEO), Hassad conducted us on a comprehensive “warts-and-all” tour of the Wartsila-supplied generating plants.
Nothing was hidden. Nothing was concealed. All questions were readily answered, some even before they were asked.
The 17-year-old “Black Pine” plant, four generator sets together producing 27 megawatts, is clearly starting to show her age. Notwithstanding almost two decades of hard usage, however, she still looks a lot better than the Wadadli Power Plant did when Caribarena.com took our now-infamous photos.
One engine was undergoing extensive maintenance, some of its parts carefully spread out on the floor. The atmosphere was patently that of a well-kept (if extremely noisy: ear protection required) mechanical workshop. Lubricating grease was in evidence, as was a certain amount of waste oil from the racketing generator sets.
The control room is as modern as they come, all functions computer controlled and linked in via a virtual network with Wartsila monitoring and quality-control facilities in faraway Finland.
The newer (only five years old) plant, located a short walk away from Black Pine, is not only more efficient by a margin of three gallons per megawatt, but also shows advances in design. Its four mighty generator sets together are capable of delivering fifty-one megawatts of electricity.
Its container building, constructed to resist a force five hurricane, is a steel frame structure, double insulated with an exterior skin of corrugated galvanized sheeting. No painting will ever be required, since the sheeting is factory coloured. The “H” beams that gird and support the structure employ a variable bolt system that permits APC to “tune” the structure to eliminate vibration.
Nothing shown in the Caribarena.com photos of the Wadadli Power Plant can even begin to compare with the world-class calibre of the newer APC installation. Yet, the 51-megawatt plant came in at US$49M: less than one million United States dollars for each megawatt. On a dollar-for-dollar basis, the Wadadli Power Plant, at some US$1.56 M per megawatt, does not at all compare well.
It must also be borne in mind that appreciation of the Chinese Yuan against the US dollar is steadily increasing the value of the contract, already inflated from US$43 M to US$47.58 M. Of course, one should remember that currencies can also depreciate in value over time.
The star of the APC 51 megawatt plant, however, is the mighty slab upon which the weighty Wartsila engines sit. Even standing on the massive block of stress-tested concrete, whose pilings go down 90 feet, the engine supports rest on springs designed to absorb earthquake vibration.
One thing is clear at this point. Whenever Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer feels confident enough to open the firmly closed doors of the Wadadli Power Plant to media scrutiny, Caribarena.com and the Observer Media Group will have a sound template against which to assess the calibre of the Chinese-supplied generator sets.
In the meantime, a myriad of vexing questions still remains to be answered.
See related stories:
Chinese Power Plant or Antigua's White Elephant
Below are the 2 Galleries from the APC and the Black Pine power plants.