A fully integrated utility, Grand Bahama Power Company supplies electrical power to the 45,000 residents of the island of Grand Bahama. Founded in 1964 as the Freeport Power Company, the electric utility operation was originally a department of the Grand Bahama Port Authority Limited, the founders of Freeport in 1956.
For its first seven years, electric utility operations on the island were intermingled with other activities of the Port Authority in developing Freeport. By the early 1960s, however, it was apparent that Freeport was growing rapidly and a separate company was needed to handle power generation, transmission and distribution.
Originally managed and operated by 12 employees, Grand Bahama Power now employs 167 people. The utility is owned by its employees and the public, as well as ICD Utilities and Mirant Corporation of Atlanta, Georgia, a competitive energy company that produces and sells electricity in North America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines.
Today, Grand Bahama Power operates and maintains a distribution system that includes 60 miles of 69 kV transmission lines, 220 miles of 12.5 overhead distribution lines, 30 miles of 12.5 kV underground distribution lines and 175 miles of low voltage conductors. Electricity is transmitted from nine oil-fired power generation units via four 69 kV transmission lines, seven 69/12.5 kV sub-stations and twenty-one 12.5 kV distribution feeders. The utility has a generating capacity of 140.75 megawatts (MW), about double the maximum demand for electricity on the island in 2001.
In early 2005, Chantel Nesbitt, Environmental Health & Safety Coordinator for Transmission & Distribution, first took on responsibilities related to safety at Grand Bahama Power. A certified first aid, CPR and AED instructor, she holds a Bachelor's Degree in Chemical Engineering, an Advanced Safety Certificate from the National Safety Council and is an Industrial Hygiene Technician through the NIOSH Outreach Program.
Reporting to the company's Director of Environment, Safety & Security, and along with the Environmental Health & Safety Coordinator for Generation and a Security Supervisor, Nesbitt implements Grand Bahama Power's safety and health management plan for transmission and distribution, serves as a training officer, and as safety inspector conducts investigations and develops corrective action plans. Recently, she discussed with Incident Prevention the specific safety programs in place at the company as well as the unique challenges for an island-based electric utility.
What safety and health management programs do you develop and implement at Grand Bahama Power?
We have a full range of training programs. Topics and subjects we cover include first aid, CPR and AED, hazard communication, emergency response, fire extinguishers, forklifts, lock-out/tag-out, hazard inspections and confined space issues.
How do they benefit the company, its employees and its customers?
Lock-out/tag-out training is crucial due to the nominal voltages of 12.5kV to 69kV in our transmission and distribution system. Emergency response is also very important because of those nominal voltages and possible exposure to PCB-contaminated transformer oil. At the same time, we feel that first aid, CPR and AED training are essential since our T&D employees often work great distances from our facility.
What are the unique challenges you face due to the geographical area in which you operate?
Hurricane threats are the greatest since we are located in "hurricane alley" and therefore virtually guaranteed to have significant line damage during a major storm. For that reason, our T&D lines cannot be insured.
Are storm recovery efforts particularly challenging, and how are they addressed?
Is mutual aid available to you? After the major storms of 2004, including Hurricane Frances and Hurricane Jeanne, Grand Bahama Power ensured that a substantial stock of inventory was on hand. Inventory is not always readily available on the island; however, proximity to Florida makes items fairly accessible. In addition, Mirant Corporation has established mutual aid agreements with southern power companies in the U.S. and CARILEC (Association of Caribbean Electric Utilities) offers assistance from power companies in the Caribbean.
What regulations impact your decisions about safety and compliance?
We follow OSHA, NFPA 30E, NEC and NESC regulations, and Bahamas Statutes. We often use theses regulations and standards to help us identify and determine hazards and develop safety practices and programs.
Are you involved in the purchasing decisions for personal protective equipment for work crews?
The high heat combined with high humidity in our region makes workers uncomfortable when wearing PPE. My involvement ensures the crews receive PPE that will adequately safeguard them with the least amount of discomfort. My involvement also specifies confined space testing equipment.
How do you measure safety performance?
How can safety professionals benchmark progress in improving safety records? We use KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and update the data monthly. We also participate in CARILEC benchmark studies with other Caribbean utilities and with U.S.-based organizations, such as Edison Electric Institute (EEI). All of that information is used to set targets based on top quartile performers.
How would you summarize your philosophy and approach toward utility safety?
Our main goal at Grand Bahama Power is to ensure that all of our personnel are comfortable in their work environment, including knowing job tasks and having the most effective safety safeguards in place. We continually strive to achieve a good working relationship between management and crews as well as to ensure safety compliance in all areas of the company. ip