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GEBE overhauls to be finalised, maintenance schedule to resume

page6a116~ Management agreement on horizon ~

 

PHILIPSBURG--While deferred maintenance and ageing machinery form part of the problems faced recently by GEBE, the process of upgrading and producing water and electricity can still always be affected by unforeseen circumstances. GEBE is in the beginning stages of working together with a manufacturing and maintenance company that would help to deliver a better product to the consumer.

Also, while consumers have been frustrated in light of recent outages and load-shedding across the districts, the situation would have been even worse had it not been for some hotels agreeing to use their own generators.

These were some of the points shared by various department heads and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Rene Gartner of the utilities company in a press conference on Thursday, aimed at addressing the background of recent outages and sharing plans for tackling obstacles.

Conditions are expected to stabilise by the end of next week, when the ongoing overhaul of two large engines, now down, is complete. Older engines on standby are being used, but these are not the most efficient, “So if one engine trips now, we are short of power … and then we go to load-shedding,” said Power Plant Manager Kenrick Chittick.

Shortly thereafter, probably in mid-October, the company will continue with the overhaul of another engine, continuing its maintenance schedule. Next year, another four engines will be overhauled.

“We want to make sure that by the end of the year we have everything in tiptop shape so that we can reorganise our maintenance schedule, stick to it, and deliver reliable power,” said Gartner.

The hotels have been of great assistance, representatives said, reducing the need for more load-shedding. The company aims at limiting load-shedding to any area to a maximum of two hours, and is trying to avoid cutting power to priority commercial areas such as Philipsburg, St. Maarten Medical Center, Princess Juliana International Airport, the school districts during school hours, and the company’s water production and pumping facilities.

The company also has to play the load-shedding schedule by ear to an extent, so there are limitations to the ability to forewarn, and GEBE has resorted to posting updates throughout the day on social media, much to the contention of consumers hit by outages unexpectedly.

The fire on September 28, which resulted in a widespread outage, was caused by a fuel leak that led to only minimum damage and was addressed within minutes, but it took four to five hours to let the engine cool to a safe level, replace damaged cables and clean before it was up and running again.

On the same day, another engine that had been running for weeks and was extremely hot also suffered a failure.

Chittick pointed out that when an engine failed it would be quite hot and could not be repaired until it cooled down. This can take up to eight hours, Gartner said, but Chittick added that employees had been getting down to work with protective gloves and other gear within two hours, with engines still hot. Engines are running at 80 to 90 per cent load, 24 hours a day, he said.

There is also a night schedule for maintenance in place at the moment.

Chittick explained that the maintenance schedule this year had started out well, but unexpectedly realised during the overhaul of two engines, components needed to be replaced to prevent damage to equipment.

Some parts had to be cast because they are no longer manufactured. There also were delays in delivery of these components. The engines had already been in use for 15 years. The situation caused a setback of around three months to the maintenance schedule.

Later, another unit failed when a bearing rolled and damaged a crank shaft, a critical part of an engine. This had to be repaired immediately and it takes time to have the technical process done properly.

Then another two component failures were experienced in a short time during an overhaul to an engine in August.

Gartner hopes that more practical insight can be provided in an upcoming open house for the media. It is also hoped that students will join the tour and gain exposure to the field. GEBE also hosted an open house and plant tour for the public over the weekend.

 

Possible Solution

In seeing the challenges coming, GEBE also started exploring working together with a company that manufactures and services engines for some 20 regional power plants, which can offer equipment and management services, Gartner said.

GEBE representatives have met with an agent of that company, and are now waiting on a proposal for evaluation. The parties will possibly sign a maintenance agreement in the coming period.

“While we plan our own maintenance and order parts, they have maybe 20 clients in the region, all having the same demand,” GEBE representatives noted. The company manufactures and sells engines to the islands, and has a wide overview of what parts and engines are being serviced or replaced, as well as the distribution of technicians.

Gaining St. Maarten as a client also would help them to make the most of logistics, Garner said, and result in more competitive prices for GEBE. That way, both price and management quality can become better.

In an invited comment, he said this did not typically translate to lower pricing to consumers, because changes and innovation needed to lower prices are balanced with the cost of upgrading. However, without upgrades, prices to the consumer would keep becoming steeper.

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