The activities surrounding the expansion of the GEBE power plant in Cay Bay is continuing at a brisk pace with the planned completion date scheduled for April 2010. The foundations are being laid for the new building that will house the power generating equipment. Construction will continue throughout the year as the preparations continue for installation of the two new diesel generators.
The new Wartsila engines, a total investment of US$33 million, will bring an additional capacity of 22.6 MW of power generation, increasing the power plant capacity from 72 MW to 94 MW. With a large number of development projects on the island in various stages of planning, building and finalization, GEBE must continue expanding its capacity to ensure an adequate supply to the island community.
Once the generators are installed, the GEBE power plant will be able to run solely on heavy fuel oil. This combined with the larger capacity of heavy fuel oil engines will allow management to retire the smaller engines, some of which are almost 40 years old. The smaller engines are less efficient and run on light fuel oil, and are therefore more expensive to operate. This will reduce GEBE’s fuel bill and the savings will be passed on to the customer.
Another major benefit of the new engines will be that they are radiator-cooled, making them more reliable especially in times of high seas such as after the passing of hurricanes.
The time between the point of ordering a new generator, installing and commissioning the engine is approximately two years. Therefore long term planning is needed to gauge the level of growth on the island and the projected electricity demand.
Although the economic crisis may be slowing some developments, GEBE has reserved space in the new engine building for a third generator in the event that the island continues to develop at its current pace. The projections for electricity demand over the coming five years may necessitate the purchase of a new generator before any renewable energy projects, such as geothermal energy in Saba, are established. Since GEBE has the obligation to provide any and every customer with power, the company cannot risk not having enough electricity to supply the community of St. Maarten.