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Regulator to determine whether BLPC breached power supply rules

The Barbados Light and Power Company (BLPC) could face a $100 000 fine if a Fair Trading Commission (FTC) probe finds that the utility breached the Guaranteed Standards of Service or failed to act with prudence over last week’s island-wide blackout, the utility regulator said on Thursday.

The power cut forced the early closure of schools, government offices and businesses, with full restoration of electricity supply returning more than eight hours later.

A probe will be carried out by the BLPC itself with the FTC making a ruling following the company’s submission of a full report of its findings.

Confirming that an investigation is underway, FTC Chief Executive Officer Marsha Atherley-Ikechi told Barbados TODAY that the commission has already received a preliminary report from BLPC on the interruption of the electricity supply.

Following further inquiries, the company is to hand in its final report to the regulator.

“Any major outage is always of interest to the Fair Trading Commission, and (Light and Power) are required to report to the commission on it.

“As per the requirements, they must submit a formal in-depth report within six weeks of the occurrence of the event. We will assess that to determine whether they acted prudently or not and if there are any things of concern to us,” the CEO said.

Asked what the FTC can do if the probe raises concerns, Atherley-Ikechi said there are provisions, depending on what the determination is, for the commission to impose penalties or fines.

The FTC developed the penalty framework after a series of multiple blackouts in 2019, the worst in generations.

In a 48-page decision on Standards of Service for the Light and Power for 2023-2025, the commission has set out the penalties and fines for breaches of those guaranteed standards as well as compensation for individual and multiple customers whose electricity supply has been disrupted due to a fault within the control of the company.

Light and Power is now required to restore power to customers within eight hours of service loss, according to the guaranteed standards.

If the company is found to have breached any of the service standards or failed to act prudently, it may have to pay a penalty imposed by the FTC under section 38 of the Utilities Regulations Act.

Once the commission has determined the Standards of Service applicable to a utility, those standards are binding and must be strictly adhered to by the utility.

According to section 31(1) of the regulations, “every service provider which fails or refuses to obey an order of the Commission made under this Act is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $100 000 and, in the case of a continuing offence, to a further fine of $10 000 for each day or part thereof during which the offence continues”.

Light and Power spokeswoman Jackie Marshall-Clarke had told Barbados TODAY the outage which occurred around 11:30 a.m. on September 21, was the result of a fault on the BLPC’s 24KV transmission line in St Thomas “which caused the entire system to cascade”.

She said the process to restore power to customers started within the hour but was hindered by system stability challenges that the company was investigating.

Managing director Roger Blackman said later that the electric company would be investigating the instability issues that were seen, though he appeared to blame fluctuations in power supplied by solar photovoltaic systems which he said created some challenges to balancing the load on the national grid.

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