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When The Lights Went Out in Trinidad and Tobago

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By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

The lights in the Caribbean trade bloc’s richest country and the region’s largest economy went out after midnight on Good Friday while 1.3 million residents of Trinidad and Tobago slept, triggering countrywide panic and fears of looting, and above all reminding those in authority how vulnerable and helpless the country could be in a crisis.

Some, including thousands of tourists, slept through the collapse of the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission’s (T&TEC) generating systems but others who were frightened out of a restful night’s sleep protested vehemently about the failure of the government to fix a system that has failed one too many times in recent years.

Officials in the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar blamed a problem linked to gas supply from the state’s oil and gas company for the shutdown of the system, which darkened the entire island of Trinidad as well as the tourist paradise of Tobago.

At the start of the outage, the national security ministry heightened the security alert, mindful of the looting and chaos that had taken place in the past during periods of brief crises. Some, both in and out of government, initially speculated that saboteurs might have been behind the power outage and eyed a resurgent opposition, but this suspicion was quickly dispelled by official explanations that the national outage was linked to a technical breakdown.

The one good thing that will apparently emerge from the Good Friday debacle is that attention is now being turned to reduced dependence on fossil fuels for power generation.

Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine now says that officials will ramp up long-held plans to turn to renewable energy sources to power some sectors of the economy, both to minimize fossil fuel dependency and help bolster the level of power generation overall. He also said that cabinet as a matter of urgency will discuss last week’s crisis in general and the need to push ahead with the low carbon, non-fossil fuels program that officials had been sitting on for years.

“The blackout showed us the importance of diversifying away from fossil fuels. We are seeing that in the not too distant future, in five to six years, T&T will require another new power plant. We are doing everything within our power to provide a regular and reliable supply of electricity. Certain things may be beyond your control, but we are certainly looking at every aspect of it. In fact, I am meeting with some of T&TEC managers tomorrow and Wednesday,” he said.

Engineers were able to repower some areas within hours of the worse shutdown in years, but residents in others had to wait longer. But no one has said much about the link between the water supply and power supply, as the water flow in many areas simply went down as well, adding to the misery of islanders on the long holiday Easter weekend.

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