Although diesel provides most of the fuel for the Company’s generators, Light & Power is fully cognizant of the strides made in solar technology. In Barbados, over 30,000 solar systems are used by residents to produce hot water on a daily basis and for that, no fuel is required. Indeed, the work of Professor Oliver Headley at the University of the West Indies has provided much impetus to move in this direction. Thus in February 2000, the Company erected a photovoltaic solar electric system at its generating station at Seawell comprising 60 panels, covering an area of 50 square metres, the system produces 2 kW, the amount required for a typical household. While this output is low compared with the 20,000 kW produced by the GT04 gas turbine at Seawell, it afforded the Company the facility to gain valuable operating and maintenance experience which will position it for any major move to solar power. What has been found so far is that unlike the diesel generators, the PV system requires very little maintenance. In addition, on sunny days output is highest, with the unit producing as high as 2.5 kW. This matches well with the demand for electricity, which increases during the daylight hours.
The forerunner to The Barbados Light & Power Co. Ltd., the Barbados Electric Supply Corporation (BESC), was formed in 1909, following the passage of the Electric Light & Power Act by the Barbados House of Assembly in 1899 and its enactment in 1907.
The laying of underground mains in Bridgetown and along the Hastings road as far as St. Lawrence Gap began the next year and on June 17, 1911 the Electric Light Works was officially opened by Lady Probyn, wife of then Governor, Sir Leslie Probyn.
The electrification of the island proceeded slowly, with all the expected growing pains.
For example, the original poles imported from Norway rotted in less than three years in the more humid tropical environment of Barbados and the original substations, made from galvanize, were found to be too hot to work in.
Former employee Ken Blackman recalled, "In the early days you knew when you were in the country, because just out of Bridgetown there were no lights. There were gas lights down to Fontabelle and as far as Eagle Hall..."
These were the years when electricity itself had to prove itself. Former Managing Director Frank McConney noted in the June 1986 issue of "Electrazine" "It took about 60 years to reach sales of 100 million kilowatt hours, because in the early days, the pioneers of the enterprise had to work hard to interest prospective customers who were unacquainted with electricity."
As demand grew, the BESC ordered more equipment, but the Company found it difficult to get permission to erect poles and substations on the property of individual homeowners and businesses.
As in other countries, the growth of the electricity industry in Barbados depended mainly on the middle and upper economic classes.
Recalled former employee Felix Hinkson in 1985: "Who had electricity? Belleville, Strathclyde, Hastings, Fontabelle and Dover, where all the 'aristocracy' lived, in the built-up areas. (Also) Sandy Lane, as far down as Holetown" and, of course, businesses in the city.
In 1936, the year before the disturbance, which opened the pathway to the modern history of Barbados, the BESC got its original franchise extended to cover the remainder of the island on a non-exclusive basis.
By that time, the Company had acquired five vehicles. By 1940, the total capacity of the BESC was 2,000 kW, but by 1955 it had tripled to 7,044 kW, with peak demand on the system totalling 4,200 kW.
In 1955, The Barbados Light & Power Co. Ltd. (BL&P) was formed to take over the local assets of the BESC, which remained as a holding company in London.
Half a million 5 1/2% shares were offered to Barbadians and the issue was oversubscribed. That same year Hurricane Janet devastated the island, causing severe dislocation to the operations of the Company.
But the Company recovered and in 1958 its first 2,500 kilowatt steam turbo alternator was installed.
As demand grew, the Company found its existing plant could not cope and in 1959 then Premier Grantley Adams threatened to nationalize it, but never did, although a one-man Commission of Enquiry was set up.
Ken Blackman recalled that the Company kept working hard to make things go smoothly, experimenting with various different engines. "At 11 o'clock each morning I would have to go down to Bay Mansion to take out (disconnect) Bridgetown. People knew not to go into an elevator after 10:50 a.m." The Company and its employees toiled through those "hard days of the fifties," taking the decision after much trial and error with equipment, to begin introducing steam turbines to its existing diesel plant and gradually came out of that difficult period.
In 1960, the BESC sold its shares in the Company to the Mitchell Engineering Group, also of the UK. and three years later control passed to the Canadian International Power Company.
By 1965, the Barbados Light & Power Company had 29,238 customers, and in the following year, it purchased a 5 1/2 acre site at Spring Garden, which would become its main generating station.
The Spring Garden Generating Plant went into operation in 1967 with five GM diesel generator sets and a peak capacity of 11,500 kW. Two Mirlees diesel sets were added to Spring Garden at a cost of Bds. $4 million. This extension was officially opened in 1969 by then Prime Minister Errol Barrow. The extension added another 9,000 kW of power to meet the demand of a rapidly growing customer base, which now totalled 40,249; an increase of 10,000 customers- a 33% growth in just four years.
The decades of the 1970s and 1980s continued the consolidation of the Company's "power base," while the local shareholders also increased in number, from 1,300 in 1970 to 2,265 by 1983.
In the early 1970s the Company commenced its largest ever project to date, a new steam station at Spring Garden, which opened in 1976 with two 20,000 kW steam turbines and cost Bds $36 million.
But while that project was moving from the drawing board to reality, the Company came under fire in 1974 when the Public Utilities Board (PUB) approved its application for a rate increase, with charges now being applied to domestic and street lighting sales.
The increasing cost of materials, in particular fuel and maintenance, affected the Company's ability to meet its financial obligations.
In 1976, electricity sales began to rise again for the first time in three years, but engineering problems with the diesel generators and gas turbine reduced the available generating capacity, and power rationing was reintroduced for the first time since 1949. In 1977, the PUB granted another increase in rates and the Company raised needed capital by a share issue. Government, through the National Insurance Scheme, purchased 300,000 ordinary shares.
By 1979, although the Company had over 35 circuit miles of 24,000-volt transmission lines, and an installed capacity of nearly 100,000 kW as well as over 400 employees serving 66,000 customers, its financial situation continued to be critical, delaying the ordering of equipment needed for expansion.
It was at this tough time that Frank McConney, up to then Manager of Business Operations, was named General Manager and later in the year Managing Director, on the retirement of John Nelson, who had been with the firm for 24 years, 20 of them as Managing Director. The PUB approved rate increases on May 16 1980 bringing financial relief to the cash-strapped Company, and pending loan negotiations could be finalized.
By 1980, Barbadians owned 52% of the Company, or some three million shares.
In 1982, two 12.5 megawatt low-speed diesel units were installed at the Spring Garden Generating Station, which was opened by then Prime Minister Tom Adams in 1983.
That year, the PUB gave the Company a rate increase of 7 1/2 cents per kWh, backdated to November 1982, and in 1985, the Company took a major step forward in its drive for improved customer service when the Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition (SCADA) system was installed; allowing operators to monitor the distribution network from a control room at the Garrison headquarters.
At a special meeting of the shareholders in November 1997, the Company's shareholders voted to have all of the Company's shares exchanged for shares in a new parent Company, Light & Power Holdings Ltd.
Thus, on January 2, 1998, The Barbados Light & Power Company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Light & Power Holdings, which could then seek out new business opportunities in and outside of the region.
However, there was no consequential change in the share ownership, with some 63% of the shares owned by approximately 2,800 Barbadian investors, of which the National Insurance Board was the largest, with 28% of the Company's shares.
The remaining 37% of Light & Power Holdings shares are owned by Canadian International Power Co. Ltd., whose parent company is the Leucadia National Corporation of the USA.
Mr. McConney, who led the Company out of a difficult period and into its modem era of expansion, retired from the Company in early 1999 after 35 years' service. He was succeeded as Managing Director by Andrew Gittens, who had joined the Company in 1967 and, at the time of his appointment to the post of MD, was the Company's Director of Engineering.
In 1999, the Company completed the installation of a new 20-megawatt gas turbine at its Seawell generating station, supplied under a turnkey contract by ABB Stal of Sweden. At the end of 1999, the Company's installed capacity totalled 185.5 megawatts.
Nearly half of this is the base load capacity of steam turbines (40 MW) and low speed diesels (51.5 MW). The balance is medium and high-speed diesels (30.5 MW) and gas turbines (63.5 MW) used for intermediate and peaking duty. The average load was around 89 MW with a peak demand of some 125 MW. For the financial year ended December 31, 1999, the BL&P earned a net profit of $12.8 million on gross revenues of $191.5 million.
At the end of 2000, the Barbados Light & Power Co. had just over 89,000 domestic customers and about 12,300 commercial customers, a total of just over 101,300 customers in all.
In addition, there were over 22,000 street lights on the island. Electricity sales totalled over 704 million kilowatt-hours. The largest single development to date has been the installation and commissioning of a 60 megawatt low speed diesel generating station at Spring Garden, which was officially opened in November 2005. This plant operates on the lowest cost residual fuel available and is realizing considerable efficiency. The benefits are all being passed on to customers.
Mr. Andrew Gittens retired in 2006, and was succeeded to the position by Peter Williams, who joined the Company in 1977 and who was at the time, serving as Chief Operating Officer.
The development of the Company has been steady, with wise financial planning and sound investments in human resources, plant and equipment playing a major role in its success over the years.
In 2009, the Company applied to the Fair Trading Commission for an adjustment of electricity rates. This was the first rate hearing sought by the Company since 1983 – twenty-six years since it had applied and was granted an increase in rates by the regulator. An increase was granted based on the Company’s financial situation, expansion needs, the importance of electricity to national development and the anticipation of new business and residential developments on the island. Despite an appeal by intervenors, who had spoken out against the rate increase during the hearing, the new rates went into effect from March 2010.
The relationship with Leucadia National Corporation, which was forged in the early 1980s ended in 2010, when Emera, a Canadian-based company acquired 38% interest in Light & Power Holdings. Later that year, Emera made an offer to shareholders to purchase all issued and outstanding common shares in Light & Power Holdings. The offer was accepted by most of the shareholders and by early 2011, Emera owned 79.7% of Light & Power Holdings shares, thereby making it the largest single shareholder. The remaining shares are held by the National Insurance Board and approximately 1,700 other shareholders.
By this time, Mr. Peter. Williams had been appointed as Managing Director, Light & Power Holdings and Mr. Mark King was promoted to the position of Managing Director of The Barbados Light & Power Company, with effect from November 1, 2011. At the time of his appointment, Mr. King had also been serving in the role of Chief Operating Officer and had spent 35 years. He retired on April 30, 2014.
As the Company presses forward, one of its biggest challenges will be finding alternative energy sources which are clean, efficient and less costly. In this regard it has kept itself abreast of the latest developments in alternative energy, and has taken exploratory steps towards this goal. While the Company relies heavily on steam, gas and diesel to produce electricity for its customers, it has also paid more than active interest to alternative sources of energy. In the 1980s the high price of oil led to repeated calls for the Company to move in this direction. Heightened interest was given to new forms of energy from the 1990s after scientists and environmental agencies warned of global warming due to the emission of green house gases. International protocols such as the Kyoto protocol aimed to reduce carbon emissions to 5.2% of the 1990 levels by 2012. Such protocols have urged Barbados to comply with the spirit of such agreements, placing pressure on the Company to make a response.
The Company also entered into discussions with the Barbados Sugar Industries Ltd (BSIL) at the turn of the century with the view of establishing a co-generation plant. The idea was to locate a plant close to a sugar factory in order to use the bagasse from the factory. It was anticipated that sugar cane would be grown to increase the supply to the co-gen plant, and during the out of crop season, coal would be used. The co-gen plant would in turn supply low-pressure steam and electricity to the factory and the general grid. Such a plant had been built and operated in Guadeloupe since 1998. While the idea of co-generation was an exciting one, there was a lack of enthusiasm in using coal. In addition, investors did not readily come forward to finance the project and the Company was forced to press ahead with its diesel plant for Spring Garden.
Another exciting proposal for alternative energy is the return to wind power. The Company has already identified an area in Lamberts, St. Lucy, to site a wind farm consisting of 10-12 turbines with a capacity of 10,00 kW. It is expected that this will provide 4% of the country’s annual electricity needs. In addition to the wind farm, the Company has seriously explored the use of natural gas from Trinidad either in a compressed state or transported via an undersea pipeline managed by a company known as Eastern Caribbean Gas Pipeline Co. Ltd. Natural gas is considered to be the most environmentally friendly fossil fuel and it is hoped that the use of this energy source will reduce the cost of electricity to consumers and provide the energy needs of the country for years to come.