What’s the Deal With All the Power Outages?

If you have been on Roatan for any longer than about 3 days, chances are you’ve experienced one of our infamous power outages. Sorry about that.

shot glasses can be used for shots AND candles!

shot glasses can be used for shots AND candles!

Many visitors to Roatan find these blackouts inconvenient (obviously, cause if the blender doesn’t work for margaritas I get mad too!) so most bigger hotels and resorts have back-up generators that they use for the times that the power is out so that their guests can continue to be comfortable even if the power is out.

If you ask any locals, all of them will tell you, “it’s WAY better than it used to be”. Then they will go on at length about how it used to be out every single night, or for 3 days at a time, or how when they were kids there wasn’t any electricity at all. All of this is true. However, it doesn’t change the fact that this is 2014, and with a quadrupled permanent population plus a massive influx of tourists, Roatan needs reliable power these days. Being better than absolutely terrible doesn’t make it good!  The surges in power plus the power cutting on and off all the time is not great for your electronics and devices – I’m on my third laptop in the last two years and even my surge protectors get fried. Many people have to replace computers, TVs, cell phones, fridges, and more. We are all hoping for some improvements soon for visitors and locals alike.

So why do we still have so many power outages here? It’s not unheard of to have up to 5 in a week, varying in length from 15 minutes to 6+ hours, although lately the power company, Roatan Electric Company (or RECO as we call it here) has been doing better with only 1-2 a week.

There are a few factors that tie into all these outages. First, you should know that the entire island is powered from RECO – one company – that runs exclusively on huge diesel generators. (See where I said diesel? This is why our power costs about 10x what it does in North America. And that, my friends, is why you have to pay an extra $10-15/night to use the A/C in your hotel!)

Second, the system is overloaded. It was never originally designed to support so many big resorts, new housing developments, colonias filling up with people building on top of each other and illegally splicing lines, and bars and restaurants trying to outdo each other with lights and sound systems. The island is growing and the electric system is still catching up. This is why you’ll see so many outages during holidays and festivals here, because the hotels are all full of tourists and all the bars and restaurants are going non-stop and it puts a lot of pressure on the system.

Third, the system is poorly designed to detect faults. When a tree falls on the line, or a woodpecker makes a hole in the wooden electric poles (this is an actual problem – no joke – and RECO is currently undertaking a huge process to replace all poles with concrete ones), or a line starts on fire (also not a joke), a HUGE area goes out. By huge, I mean either half the island, or the whole island. There is no way to isolate faults to a small section of line (ie. when you have a problem with your power in North America, generally one or two streets might go out, not the whole city). Also, it’s really hard for the crews to find the fault because they have to go out and follow the ENTIRE line until they find it. This can take hours, and is usually in less-than-ideal weather conditions. We love our RECO lineman that go out in these conditions to restore power for us (and they all exempt from our bitching about RECO!)

when the power goes out, don't get frustrated... do some candlelight yoga!

when the power goes out, don’t get frustrated… do some candlelight yoga!

So what can you do? A few options:

  1. Stay somewhere with a backup generator and don’t worry about it!
  2. Be like a local – keep electronics charged at all times (especially if it looks like there might be rain or wind) and never leave the house with them plugged-in in case the power goes out, buy candles, learn to cook with a stove instead of a microwave (we use propane stoves here and they still work in power outages), and always keep some beer or wine on hand to relax without Facebook and email for a few hours. Some people enjoy the break 🙂

Hope this has shed some light (see what I did there?) on Roatan and its power situation. Remember, we’re on island time… it will get fixed when it gets fixed. Grab a beer!

– rika