In May 1949, an important economic report was tabled in the House of Assembly. Little did they know at the time that, decisions made on this report, would have far reaching implications for Nassau’s electricity production, for many decades to come.
The report recommended the installation of steam turbine engines, instead of diesel powered engines, aimed at expanding electricity supply facilities, in a cost effective way for consumers, at a new location, at Clifton Pier.
Clifton Pier was constructed some decades before in the 1920s. It was a landing wharf for ships, used by monied fashionable Americans, bootleggers and businesses to land goods. Clifton was located fortuitously at the south-west side of New Providence. It could be approached from various directions. During inclement weather or a busy Nassau Harbour, ships could easily land and disembark passengers and cargo.
Steam powered engines, generating hydro-electric power with minimal use of diesel fuels was revolutionary at the time when you think about it. These engines would have made efficient use of an abundant natural resource for Nassau – sea water.
The electricity report was done, free of charge to the government, by the Mr. Havart, Director of the Electricity Department and Mr. A. E. Worswick, retired electrical engineer who built electrical plants for the Electricity Department.
In May 1949, Members in the House were excited by the free of charge report as well as the possibility of reducing the cost, to the government, of generating electricity on New Providence.
Had the government contracted an outside consultant, it would have cost the Colony’s treasury some £1,000. Diesel was also becoming increasingly expensive. This expense was being passed on to Bahamian consumers. A cheaper alternative was welcomed by all. Well, maybe not all!
Everyone in the House was excited, except for Roland T. Symonette MHA, New Providence East.
“It was the joint opinion of Mr. Havart, the Director, and Mr Worswick that, if the House approved of the suggested change to steam, a site near Clifton Pier would be best suited to this type of installation on account of the unlimited supply of seawater for distillation and cooling purposes, and the depth of water in that locality would facilitate the landing a fuel oil and other materials from a tanker by other vessels. If approval was given, Mr Sands continued, it would be necessary to provide a sum of £2000 for the preliminary surveys. The Committee felt however that in view of the advice of Mr Havart and Mr. Worswick, it would not be necessary to obtain the obtain the service of an expert.
Mr. Symonette asks for further investigation.”
Why would Roland Symonette object to the proposed Clifton Pier Power Plant Being Steam Powered?
Symonette made an extraordinary outburst regarding the report saying “free things kill Nassau people”. So extraordinary an expression that it made bold typed headlines in the news.
The Member for New Providence East was referring to the report being prepared gratis by the Department of Electricity. While the Select Committee was more than prepared to accept the report and vote on approving a new steam powered electrical plant at Clifton, Symonette said further investigation was needed. The question is why?
Roland Symonette was very knowledgeable about diesel and fuel. He had of course opened his Gulf Oil Refinery subsidiary business, at Hog Island, since 1927.
Fuel to Nassau’s electricity generators, were being supplied by Symonette’s Gulf Oil Refining operations at Hog Island.
Moving New Providence’s electricity generation infrastructure to Clifton, and reducing the need for diesel, by building new steam engine generators, would significantly impact Bahama Gulf Oil company’s business with the government.
April 1927 – Roland Symonette opens his Gulf Refining Co, oil refining business on Hog Island (later renamed Paradise Island)
We visited the Symonette dockyards at Hog Is. on Thursday where the Gulf Refining Co’s enormous plant has been established at a cost of £50,000 and was surprised at the wonderful changes that have been wrought at the old dock under the progressive and enterprising hand of Mr R. T. Symonette.