Sun | Aug 9, 2020

Stadium managers, JPS in blackout row - OUR probing blown transformers

Published:Thursday | July 30, 2020 | 12:17 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
An aerial shot of a section of the Independence Park complex, which shows the National Stadium (foreground) and Stadium East.
An aerial shot of a section of the Independence Park complex, which shows the National Stadium (foreground) and Stadium East.

As sporting associations prepare to host competitions as COVID-19 restrictions ease, a legal dispute between Independence Park Limited (IPL) and the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) may keep the country’s largest multipurpose facility in the dark indefinitely.

That stand-off could jeopardise events scheduled to take place at the venue as early as October.

The squabble is centred on a disagreement over which entity is responsible for the explosion, two months ago, of two transformers, which has left Independence Park without power.

IPL, which manages the National Stadium complex, which includes a swimming pool, courts, and an indoor sports centre, says that its reliance on a generator has left the majority of its facilities underserved with power. Expenses have also soared.

JPS has been served by IPL with a claim for $15 million to repair the transformers, which are located on the grounds of Independence Park.

General manager of IPL, Major Desmon Brown, said that he has formally appealed to the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), the independent regulator, for its intervention in the matter.

With IPL reportedly strapped for cash, Brown said the management might have to turn to the Ministry of Finance for emergency funding.

“We were operating fine until the power cut came, so we feel we have a very good case. We had a power cut on the 23rd of May.

“When light came back in the area, we didn’t have any power here. We called the JPS and they came in on the Sunday and they indicated that the problem was an internal problem,” Brown told The Gleaner.

But the IPL general manager said that assessments by a high-voltage power expert and an independent electrical consultant attributed fault to an external power surge.

Brown said that IPL Chairman Mike Fennell has sought to get action from executives of JPS. Those entreaties have reportedly proved unsuccessful.

“Our board took a decision we should take the matter further because we strongly believe the problem was a JPS problem,” said Brown.

IPL has been using its generator since May 23 but that machine only has the capacity to power its administrative operations.

“It cannot power the tower lights and we have events scheduled to start in October, so there is a critical need to get the lights going again,” Brown said.

“We just wrote to the OUR Monday night, in fact, because it has been affecting our operations severely. … It is costing us more to operate like this. It is more expensive to run the generators than to use JPS.”

Elizabeth Bennett Marsh, communication specialist at the OUR, confirmed that the regulator has commenced its investigation into the matter.

But JPS has denied IPL’s claim that it is liable for the damage.

“A thorough investigation of the matter … has concluded that there is no evidence to support the claim that the damage was caused by an issue on JPS’s system,” Winsome Callum, the utility’s director of corporate communications, told The Gleaner.

“The claim for damages was handled through the company’s Legal Department, consistent with the established procedure for such claims.”

Callum emphasised that IPL did not seek assistance to repair the transformers but submitted a legal claim for damages.

Meanwhile, Brown said that inaccessibility to electricity has made life difficult for IPL’s accountants, who usually work late into the nights, especially with audits due. The generator is turned off about 6 p.m. daily, he said.

“What we are waiting for is a response from the OUR as to a way forward. We have asked them to do some inspection and testing, and while the investigation is going on, we seek to do the repairs.”