All eyes were on the Guam Power Authority on Wednesday, as it laid out a plan to spare the island from rolling power outages. An explosion and fire at the Cabras 3 and 4 power plants last month wiped out some 80 megawatts of capacity, but GPA and the Consolidated Commission on Utilities remain confident that they can prevent a repeat of the loadshedding blues of the 1990s.

GPA general manager John Benavente laid out the plan for the CCU. It's all a numbers game as the utility agency tries to squeeze out every available kilowatt of capacity in order to keep the lights on. The number it's eying is 252 megawatts - Guam's consumption when demand is highest, around 7 to 9pm.

GPA will most likely need to tap into everything it's got.  All of the baseload units, the peaking generators, and the smaller units - all options are on the table, including bringing the Dededo 1 and 2 combustion turbine units back on line that were mothballed ten years ago.

But the immediate key to GPA's plan is getting big consumers, who have their own generators, to get off the grid when needed.  It's what GPA calls "interruptible load", which will give it an extra 45 megawatts to play with.  "It's pretty clear that we're not going to get 3 and 4 back soon, and we may not get 4 back at all," Benaventa said sternly. "Then it takes three to four years to build a generator right. The 45 megawatts identified as interruptible load is really a key piece of the puzzle at this point. We hope we don't have to use it. If you look at that analysis, we're really at risk if we lose one more unit. That three-week period where he's taking Cabras down - it would be good to have that interruptible load program accepted by us and hopefully the PUC."

That's right: GPA will be taking down the 66-megawatt Cabras 2 unit soon for needed maintenance, because right now it's only pumping out 50 megawatts. So, the next 6 to 12 months will be a very delicate time period as GPA works to return full reserve capacity to the islandwide power system.

Next week GPA will meet with big power consumers, like the hotels, and huge government users like the airport and ask them to crank up their generators. And GPA will pay them up to an estimated $180,000 a month for their fuel costs.

But not to worry, says Benavente, as consumers won't be saddled with higher bills. "Fortunately the price of fuel oil has been dropping, so therefore we have some cushion there. That even though the cost of electricity to be produced from the fast track and everything else is more expensive, it is offsetting it," he explained.

At least for the next six months, then GPA will need to re-assess its costs. 

In the meantime, GPA is also keeping its fingers crossed that the remaining system remains intact, with Benavente saying, "As long as the other units, none of the big baseload units go down for one reason or other, we're able to generate and provide electricity." He added, "When you lose 80 megawatts in reserve right away, there is some impact. So this is why we're going through this different programs to get us out of this.

The CCU is scheduled to meet again next week to sign off on GPA's plan.