July 29, 2013

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

July 23, 2013 Pohnpei, FSM -Pohnpei Utilities Corporation has been running an announcement on V6AH, the Pohnpei State radio station that says that beginning on July 9 there will be "sectionalized" power outages in Pohnpei until PUC is able to repair the number seven generator. It does not mention when or if those repairs will be complete, or why to best of most peoples' recollections, the power outages started well before July 9.

It doesn't answer the question that residents of Pohnpei are desperately asking. When will the power outages that so heavily impact the quality of our lives and even the economic development of the State come to end?

PUC officials are keeping their mouths shut and their jaws clenched about what it is up to and when residents of Pohnpei can reasonably expect to have a reliable power source.

This afternoon, after a week of trying to contact him, Marcelino Actouka, PUC General Manager told The Kaselehlie Press that he'd rather spend time fixing the problem than spending the time to talk about it with us. When pressed he hastily answered a few of our questions. He provided only scant details, and then only if we knew the right questions to ask.

After he answered the phone he quickly said that he had told us previously that he could not talk about any plan to outsource power generation in Pohnpei. He intimated that PUC is involved in negotiations of some kind but that he couldn't make any plans public yet. He promised that he would let us know as soon as he can talk about it.

"You may have heard some things 'out there' going around," he said, "but for now let's just leave them 'out there'."

He confirmed that the number seven generator is broken but didn't know if it was irreparably broken. He said that until an engineer gets here to check they won't know for certain whether or not the crank shaft has been bent beyond repair which is what happened to the now decommissioned number 10 generator which was relegated to parts status. He didn't say how long it would be before engineers would arrive.

He confirmed that PUC last week paid $170,000 to Caroline Fisheries Corporation (CFC) for two generators CFC purchased for PUC. It was the extent of the conversation and we were left to seek information from other sources. Those sources lead us to believe that power solutions are on the way. Over a year ago CFC purchased two generators based on an agreement with PUC in which PUC agreed to pay the $170,000 it said it had in its budget at that time and CFC would pay whatever the remaining cost would be. Marco Kamber of CFC says that they have so far paid out nearly $900,000 minus PUC's payment of $170,000 that they received last week after more than a year of promises.

CFC hopes to have at least one of the generators ready to deliver power early next week. They hope the second of their generators will be online by the end of next week. Together the generators will provide approximately 1.6 megawatts of power if they are run at the 70 percent capacity that manufacturers recommend.

PUC wants CFC to provide a warranty for the generators they purchased. Kamber says that CFC would be willing to provide a warranty as long as they can verify that PUC follows the maintenance plan CFC has provided.

Vital, the FSM Petroleum Corporation has purchased four 500 kilowatt Volvo generators that are expected to be online by early October. Sources say that those containerized generators have already been shipped from Perth, Australia and are due to arrive on September 17. After arrival it will take approximately three weeks to connect the generators to Pohnpei's power grid.

Sources also say that Vital is working with Balance Solutions on several projects and that Balance Solutions is working with IS Systems whose representatives are currently on island.

While the CFC generators belong to PUC, the generators Vital is bringing in will be run by Vital, or its agents. Vital will sell the power they generate to PUC.

Marco Kamber of CFC said that the only reason their generators are not ready to go right now is because someone incorrectly shut the system down after a test resulting in a short that blew out two touch screen monitors on the control panels necessary for operation of the generators. The manufacturer has shipped out replacement monitors by DHL and the first of them are due to arrive early next week.

The generators that CFC purchased only after PUC approved the specifications arrived on island over a year ago but there were problems that neither CFC, which is not a power generation company, nor PUC foresaw when they negotiated for the new generators. Transformers were insufficient or non-existent. The antiquated power plant had no facilities for power switching, and there was no place to put the generators. CFC paid to build a brand new building to house the generators, paid to have a custom built switching system built, and paid for many other unexpected expenses.

It also took a lot longer to put the generators into service than was expected.

Kamber said that approximately two years ago Governor John Ehsa sent a letter to CFC asking for money to help resolve Pohnpei's power crisis. Kamber said that CFC didn't feel comfortable with just giving money and instead met with Feliciano Perman who was then the General Manager of PUC. Kamber said that CFC asked how much PUC had in its budget to purchase a new generator. Perman told them they had $170,000. CFC agreed to buy and install the two generators "no matter the cost" and PUC agreed to pay $170,000.

Kamber said that the generators it and PUC purchased are not like the low RPM generators PUC has been operating. He said those generators are designed to last for 40 years or more with proper maintenance. The two new generators are larger versions of what CFC uses on its ships and should last for at least five years before an overhaul will be needed assuming that proper maintenance is performed.

"We did this because we wanted to help. We're a local company that employs more than 100 local citizens. Last year we spent more than $3 million locally," Kamber said. "We just wanted to help the community we've done business in for more than 20 years.