Representatives of the organisations running the territory’s electricity, water and aviation services came together for a press conference on July 27, explaining recent interruptions in service and promising greater consistency for consumers. (Photo: DANA KAMPA)

A resident shared her dismay on Facebook last month after the power went out just after she refrigerated a freshly iced cake. Weeks later, she said, it happened again.

“Ayo gon mash up people appliances,” she wrote after a third outage. “I can’t take it anymore.”

Virgin Islands residents have for years bemoaned failings in the territory’s infrastructure and utilities, but in recent weeks the criticisms have dramatically amped up amid a spate of power and water outages.

On July 27, leaders held a press conference to explain their plans to address such issues. Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer said he frequently hears complaints about failing road structures and recent interruptions to water and electricity services.

“What I see generally are persons who are interested in seeing the territory improved and enhanced and advanced,” he said. “I consider all these infrastructure and services to be essential to our everyday lives. These are high priorities for myself and the Ministry of Communications and Works, in terms of bringing sustainable remedies to all.”

Asphalt plant

Public Works Department Director Jeremy Hodge offered some hope of more substantial progress on road rehabilitation after describing the challenges the government has faced in establishing an asphalt plant it says is necessary to patch road surfaces.

Mr. Hodge said the asphalt plant equipment arrived in late 2019, and the facility was originally set to be erected at a quarry. Planners determined that the area was dustier than they would like and attempted to find an appropriate new site, but their efforts fell through, he explained.

They eventually determined it would be prudent to keep the plant at the quarry and begin construction to make the site suitable, according to Mr. Hodge. That work, he said, was interrupted by the pandemic. Even after construction restarted, Mr. Hodge said shipping delays left crews waiting on specialised electrical components.

“What I’m happy to report today is that we are a lot closer to getting the plant to the stage of commissioning,” he said.

A technician is set to arrive soon to bring the plant online after the government procures a few needed parts, he added.

When questioned about what strategy is guiding the territory’s overall plans to overhaul deteriorating roads, Mr. Hodge said government will focus first on East End and Sea Cows Bay. He added that officials will consult with the public when deciding further priorities.

Electricity outages

Meeting the increasing demands for power amid an unusually hot summer has also posed challenges to the BVI Electricity Corporation, Mr. Rymer said.

“This spike in energy and electricity consumption by residents and businesses has directly led to the overworking of the functional electrical generators responsible for power in the territory,” the minister said, noting that the interruptions in power also affect the water supply. “In efforts to balance or regulate the load on the generators, sacrifices in other areas have been made.”

The corporation has been butting up against the maximum output for its generators, which BVIEC General Manager Dr. Neil Smith said means the agency occasionally must cut power. Other factors contribute to outages as well, including neglected maintenance and the need to repair line damage, Dr. Smith said.

Power station

He added that the Pockwood Pond power station can generate 58.5 megawatts at full capacity, but some equipment is currently down for planned maintenance, reducing capacity to 43 megawatts.

Though a technician is scheduled to arrive soon for repairs, demand on the system remains high, he explained.

“The load on the system is at a historic high at 34.1 megawatts, which is close to what it was before Hurricane Irma,” Dr. Smith added.

Mr. Rymer also noted that the territory is continuing to explore expansion of solar power in the territory.

Officials added that they plan to better communicate with residents about outages.

Water supply cuts

Users of public water also continue to experience shutdowns, especially in the evenings.

Mr. Rymer noted that Seven Seas Water, which operates the desalination plant in Paraquita Bay, uses four megawatts of energy when operating at full capacity. To conserve electricity, he explained, the plant is occasionally asked to cut production or completely go offline, thereby causing water outages for homes and businesses. He added that issues with aging infrastructure including leaking pipes also need to be addressed.

“We are aware that water is a necessity, and the constant breakage of pipes and current issues are inconveniencing to the public,” he said. “Again, we apologise and ask for patience as we work to resolve these issues.”