With the New Year coming, people are always thinking of change and new beginnings. “I’ll quit smoking”, “I’ll lose weight”, etc. This New Year Bocas is starting anew with the generation of its electricity.
For over 80 years now the electricity has been generated at the 6th street plant, on the south side of town by the Ultimo Refugio restaurant. However, effective January 1, 2014 the power will be generated outside of town, on the road the heads to Boca del Drago, on the same property as the Bocas Recycling Center. The new generators have recently arrived and are scheduled to be tested on December 12th.
Electricity came to Bocas del Toro during the presidency of Rodolfo Chiari in the years 1924-1928. Tito Thomas of Hotel Gran Bahia tells me that when he was a kid there was electricity only from 6pm to 9pm and that before power came to Bocas there were carbide streetlamps that had to be lit each night.
I also spoke with Mr. Mario Narvais, who has worked as an operator, electrician and manager in the production of Bocas electricity from 1960 to 2000. He shared with me some Bocas electricity history. When he began working, the electricity had always been produced by the government, but in 1978 it was privatized when IRHE (Insitutos de Recursos Hidráulicos y Electrificación) took over. IRHE ran the show for 20 years and then Petro Terminal and Union Fenosa took over in 1998.
What is interesting is that somewhere around the late 60’s/early 70’s, the US government dismantled a plant they had in Toboga and donated it to Bocas. It was a Cooper Bessemer engine. It was installed a few hundred meters after the Smithsonian Research Center where the town water facility is currently located. They installed the plant but could only get it to work for “a year or two” until the engine burned out. It has since been dismantled and the power generation was returned to the 6th street plant.
In 1998, Petro Terminal took over the production of the electricity in Bocas del Toro and upgraded the 6th street facility to its 4 megawatt capacity. Currently, Petro Terminal generates the power and sells it to Union Fenosa (a distributor), but starting in the new year the power will be generated and sold by SIGSA, a company out of Panama City.
The town will still be fueled by diesel and distributed through the same lines and transformers but will instead be powered by Caterpillar Olympic Ready-to-Run Generators, which this type of generator is not only a power plant in itself but is also a full size shipping container, equipped with an engine, fuel tank and all. Four were recently sent on board an actual container shipment, brought to the Bocas Recycling Center and mounted on concrete foundations. Now they are ready to be fueled up and plugged into the transformers to provide luz (light), as the Panamanians like to say in Spanish.
So let there be light in Bocas del Toro. Currently the islands are equipped with 4 megawatts of power, but with the new generators there will be 7 mW. Many Bocas residents are interested in how many power shortages there will be during Carnival 2014. Maybe there will be none this year with the new capacity. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.