GEBE Press Release: Island Wide Power Outage Caused by Cooling Water System;

Power restored completely withing three & a half hours

A disruption in the cooling water system caused a three-and-a-half hour island-wide power outage on Tuesday. Most areas were without electrical service for two hours with the last neighborhood coming online at 1.30pm.  

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At 10.15am the electricity grid shut completely down when emergency protection systems were automatically activated after detecting that cooling water levels were dropping to a dangerous level. In order to protect the power generation equipment the entire system shut down.

Maintenance work was being carried out on one of two cooling water basins. A combination of low tide and the malfunctioning of a major intake pump resulted in water levels dropping to critical levels. Due to the lack of sufficient water coming in and the low tide, the protection systems on sea water cooled engines were automatically activated and the engines were shutdown to protect them from overheating.

The two new air-cooled generators were able to pick up most of the load (approx. 22.6 Megawatts), however the voltage and frequency protection of the two new generators were activated as a result of disruption of the electrical grid as a result of the older engines being taken offline.

GEBE technicians worked diligently to fix the malfunctioned pump in order to get the water cooling system back up to normal operational levels.

This was successfully achieved with electricity being restored at approximately 11.30am to the Cay Bay Power Plant. The start-up of generators began shortly after with the first residential district coming back online at 11.45am and power being restored to the entire island by 1.30pm.

Disruption in electricity production due to a cooling water issue has happened in the past. Continued investments in air-cooled generators are the only solution to resolving this matter from happening again.

GEBE currently uses sea water to cool the majority of its generators, however, Managing Director William Brooks is working on a plan to have these generators phased out in the coming years and replaced with new air-cooled generators similar to the two new generators currently undergoing testing at the Cay Bay Power Plant.

In the meantime, the two new 11.3 megawatt generators are still in a test phase, but running to full capacity and providing electricity to the St. Maarten community. Some additional tweaking and fine tuning is needed and this is being carried out by manufacturer Wartsila engineers.

Tuesday’s outage caused by a lack of cooling water has taught GEBE technicians and Wartsila officials some invaluable lessons and data collected from the event will be analyzed and the production systems adjusted in order to further improve the provision of a reliable electricity production supply to the community by further limiting as much as possible unexpected malfunctions wherever humanly possible.