Current issues: When the power goes out in Cayman

Most people in Grand Cayman think about electricity provider Caribbean Utilities Company when one of two things happens: 1) their monthly bill arrives in the mail, or 2) the power goes out. Their thoughts are not likely to be loving.

CUC might well counter that being taken for granted on every other day is a positive testament to its track record of reliability, and that the company continues to rank atop the Caribbean in terms of metrics such as “average service availability index,” a measure of how often the power is on, compared to how often it is out. (According to CUC’s 2014 annual report, the provider’s ASAI last year was 99.96 percent.)

One could even say that Grand Cayman’s decades-long boom in economic development — enabled by devices such as telephones, computers, airplanes and air-conditioning — has been fueled by CUC’s diesel-powered electricity plant. CUC has been, in a word, essential to Grand Cayman’s progression from an insular turtling enclave to a global magnet for finance and tourism.

That being said, all it takes is one instance (or, in the case of Tuesday morning’s island-wide power failure, one “fault within the protection system for the generating facilities,” according to CUC) to return Cayman to its former condition as “the islands that time forgot.”

When the TVs go out, the digital clocks start blinking, the fans stop spinning and the traffic lights go dark, Grand Cayman — in the perception of whatever tourists happen to be visiting at the time — plunges from first-world aspirant to third-world backwater.

An extremely high percentage of Cayman’s businesses are dependent on the availability of uninterrupted power, and many are not fortunate enough to be located in Class A office accommodations with backup generators.
(For many businesses that do have generators, such as the Compass, blackouts still result in operating inefficiencies and production limitations.)
When the electricity goes out for a prolonged period of time, it effectively puts Cayman businesses out of business. On Tuesday, it also put our children out of school — which, of course, had the knock-on consequence of putting parents out of work for the day, as they rushed to their darkened homes to care for their children removed from darkened classrooms.

Put another way, when the power goes out in Cayman, bad things happen.
The coming months may provide some welcome public relations relief for CUC, in the form of reduced electricity bills to Cayman customers. Premier Alden McLaughlin said the average household can expect a bill of about $257 this May, compared to an average of $351 last September. The lion’s share of that drop can be attributed to the worldwide fall in oil prices; however, the Progressives government’s 25-cent reduction in import duty on diesel fuel can be credited with saving each household about $15 per month.

Nevertheless, the approaching summer months will bring higher temperatures, more power consumption and, consequently, a higher risk of power outages — and, when the air-conditioning goes out in August, as opposed to April, people tend to perspire more, and complain more.

CUC has a virtual monopoly on Grand Cayman’s energy market and, therefore, presents an inviting target for criticism when things go awry. It behooves our utility company to be on its game this summer — with real-time information updates and, of course, expeditious technical solutions (which have always been CUC’s greatest strength).

Whether it’s fair or not — when the power goes off in Grand Cayman, customers aren’t thinking about how wonderful CUC is for all of its community good works or for having kept the electricity on 99.96 percent of the time.
No, what they are thinking, we would surmise, may not be printable in the pages of a family newspaper.