Power outages continued across Grand Cayman Monday night and into Tuesday morning, causing chaos at intersections because of powerless traffic lights and affecting businesses that didn’t have back-up generators available.
Caribbean Utilities Company began initiating temporary rolling blackouts – also called load shedding – on Sunday night while the company carried out repairs to two damaged generating units.
The load shedding is designed to prevent longer and more widespread blackouts.
Sections of Seven Mile Beach, West Bay, South Sound and other areas were without power for an hour or more at random times each of the days.
CUC has said that no single-load shedding episode would last longer than one hour.
Although the financial sector was supposed to fall under the priority list of customers that CUC avoided with the rolling blackouts, many financial services industry businesses along the Seven Mile Beach corridor would have been affected had it not been for back-up generators at developments like Camana Bay, Governors Square and Grand Pavilion.
Director of Thompson Developments Gene Thompson said that power went out twice on Monday, the first time around 9.30am and the second time at 4.30pm.
“We have no warning,” he said. “If CUC has to do rolling blackouts, it would be nice of them to give us a warning.”
Work was seamless because the Grand Pavilion runs on a back-up generator and the blackouts did not affect business operations there, but he said it does not look good for tourists to see power outages.
“In the heaviest part of the tourist season, shutting down looks poor,” he said. “It looks pretty third world.”
“When the power goes off, the generator kicks in for us,” said Rodney Graham, financial controller for accounting firm BDO. “It’s pretty seamless for us. The lights go off for just a bit, there is some beeping, and the generator kicks in.”
He said most of the auditors are on laptop computers, which switch to their batteries when the rolling blackouts occur, and they continue work.
CUC ordered a back-up generator in early February after an explosion damaged one generator in January and another generator failed.
“We didn’t wait. We knew we needed it,” said Pat Bynoe-Clarke, manager of corporate communications at CUC. “This is the time it took from the order process to the delivery process.”
The new generator arrived Sunday and is being commissioned and checked to add to the system, according to Ms Bynoe-Clarke.
“When we add a new piece of machinery, we have to make sure it’s all connected properly and ready to produce energy,” she said.
CUC doesn’t expect the summer months to be impacted, as all of their units will be back on the grid at that time, Ms Bynoe-Clarke said.
Customers will not receive inconvenience discounts because of the power outages. And customers will not be charged for the time power is out.
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman “got hit like everyone else,” according to developer Mike Ryan.
“It was a bit of a challenge, especially when it comes without warning,” he said. “But it highlights the challenges of having a single supplier.”
The Ritz-Carlton was without power on Sunday evening between 5pm and 7pm while a large function took place in one of their ballrooms.
On Monday, the power again was lost during the resort’s busy check-in and check-out times.
“It doesn’t really fit the image of a first-class, high end location,” Mr. Ryan said.
Westin Casuarina Resort Manager Larry Vitagliano said the hotel had two disruptions; one on Sunday night around 6pm for two hours and on Monday around noon for about 45 minutes.
However, Mr. Vitagliano said the hotel hasn’t heard many complaints for guests.
“We’ve been fortunate in that on Sunday, most of our guests were out to dinner off site when it happened and on Monday, most of the guests were out for lunch poolside or on the beach.”
The power outages have made the internal operations of the hotel a little more difficult, but Mr. Vitagliano said that now that they knew the outages could continue happening for a while, the hotel has been able to prepare.
“We’ve acquired some additional flashlights and things like that,” he said.
The Westin does have generators, but they only run emergency systems and one of the elevators, Mr. Vitagliano said, adding that 90 per cent of the hotel’s services are down when the power goes out.
The Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort on Seven Mile Beach was also affected by the rolling blackouts, although the resort had back-up generators to keep the location approximately 80 per cent operational, according to General Manager Enrique Tasende.
“Some of the customers are upset, but we explained the situation to the guests,” he said. “We gave a lot of complimentary amenities to the guests, like good discounts on dinner and discounts on water sports.”
The temporary loss of power did affect fans of the NCAA college basketball championship when power was shut off in the first half of the game.
“When the issue happened, there were some unhappy campers,” he added. “But this morning, everything was back to normal and the situation wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”
Students in the dark, restaurants turned away customers
At Cayman International School on Monday, students were left temporarily in the dark from around 9am to 10am.
“We do have some well-lit classrooms from the large windows that let in sunshine, but any computers and technology based lessons were down,” said Wendy Foreman, office manager at CIS. “When the power goes out, it gets a little warm and sticky, but everyone just bears with it.”
Casanova Restaurant By the Sea in George Town suffered lengthy power outages from approximately 6.30pm to 8pm, while diners and restaurant staff resorted to candle light and emergency lights to continue service.
“We had to walk around with flashlights,” said Casanova’s Operation Manager Patrick O’Brien. “It’s very inconvenient. The power company has to do it, but it seems like the Water Authority and others at least let you know about before they do it. If they can’t do it at 11 o’clock at night, they should at least warn you.”
The restaurant had to turn people away at the door, and staff had to stay another two hours after closing to manually add all the night’s receipts into the system.
The Brasserie restaurant in Cricket Square was also out of power from about 11.30am to 12.30pm, right in the middle of their busy lunch hour.
“We were still able to provide service to our customers and the customers were very understanding,” said Brasserie General Manager Kyle Kennedy, adding that the restaurant used emergency lights and while the restaurant was out of power, the credit card machines failed.
“We took down numbers and had to run them after the fact,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Compass reporter Alan Markoff contributed to this article