Author's Blog



The original RECO plant is being demolished but sadly nothing has been mentioned by the company on its social media or in the media channels that it sponsors . Sadly , by demolishing the old plant building without any public mention or recognition it is as if there is a desire to sweep the significance of the place under the carpet and not say a word about it or acknowledge the contributions of past Islanders . To the current management maybe it means nothing but to islanders ( expats and natives alike ) it played a significant part of our Island story and set Roatan on the track towards development and progress. Knowing the company’s owner as I have for the past 19 years , I am sure that he also shares some affinity for the old place as well . In my own way this thumbnail history is my way of paying homage to the old plant building and the valuable contribution made by many over the years.

The original RECO central power plant and dispatch being demolished after 32 years faithful service

In the 1970’s to early 1990’s power was generated on the island by three main independent power stations ( diesel fired , high rpm ) in Oakridge ( Mariscos Bahia ) , French Harbour ( Mariscos Agua Azul ) and Coxenhole ( HB Warren ) and connected to small isolated distribution grids in each community. The ENEE paid each independent producer for power generated and the ENEE ‘maintained’ the 3 grids and billed the consumers accordingly ; I say maintained using the word loosely since there was only a skeleton crew on the island and any major work as such ( eg.changing a transformer ) would require a full crew and the transformer itself to be mobilized to the island and would take weeks or months.  

The brand new RECO central power plant and dispatch on inauguration day 15 February , 1993

In the early 90’s a group of Island businessmen , among them the owners of the three independent power producers lobbied the then government of President Rafael Leonardo Callejas for clarity as far as the energy landscape goes for our emerging tourist and development industries on the island. The vision of these founding fathers was for a central power plant / dispatch and a unified grid extending from Oakridge to West End and all points in between. The idea was to be free of the ENEE and for the company to be a user owned co-operative similar to the rural coops in the USA . And so with thoughtful lobbying both in Tegucigalpa and friends in the North a project began to take shape ; the Republic of Honduras obtained a NLG 2.5million loan from a Dutch development bank at an extremely low interest rate which would be used for building the unifying distribution grid but most importantly purchase a complete power plant consisting of three , StorkWartsila ( werkspoor ) 2.5Mva ( 2.2Mw ) low RPM , diesel fired gensets totalling 6.6Mw with all auxiliaries and fuel storage. The land was generously donated by Albert Jackson , imagine that in today’s Roatan ; 5 acres of land joining both sea and main road , donated !! The plant was built by the Swiss company Asea Brown Boveri & Cie ( todays ABB )in one year and SHIC ( Sociedad Hondureña de Ingenieros Contratistas ) under the legendary Jorge Sierra built the distribution line. The founders managed to pony up the funds needed in guarantee for the loan by pre-selling the shares.   

Some of the first original board of directors cutting the inaugural ribbon from L to R , Allan Hyde , Curby Warren , Rita Silvestri , Albert Jackson and Luey McLaughlin

           The plant was placed online in mid 1992 and while this was going on the USAID-CARES program was out in the field beating the bushes with the NRECA ( National Rural Electrical Co-operative Association ) socializing to the Roatan populace as to how a Co-Op worked and urging them to go to the bank and pay their Lps.100 to become A class shareholders . B class shares were also available at Lps.1000 each. The first ever steady job I had was with the NRECA for Lps. 1,500 per month for which I was over the moon ( the exchange rate at the time was 3 to 1 )! The plant and distribution grid were completed in mid 1992 and performance testing completed by Christmas ; all under the management of the ENEE who handed over operations in February 1993 to the newly formed Roatan Electric Company    ( RECO ) S A with Giovanni Silvestri as it’s first General Manager and it’s first General Secretary , Sheila-Mae Raymond from French Harbour , 32 years later still going strong !   

Original Units 1 , 2 and 3 ( 8SW280 , 2.5Mva ) that supplied power to Roatan from 1992 to 2017

             In February 1993 the whole island only had 1,500 customers and the demand for electricity was a mere 1.7Megawatts ( Mw) and so only one of the 3 gensets was running at any one time . By 1996 with line extensions being run to small villages like Milton , Sandy Bay and West Bay ( yes it was once a small village ) the demand began to creep up and by the time Hurricane Mitch reached us we were running all three gensets and had started using our 3216 , 1Mw ‘blackstart’ unit for a peaking power unit such was the rate of growth.

             On a personal note , the plant house was where I spent the 28th and 29th of October during Hurricane Mitch , ironically in darkness eating soda biscuits and potted meat listening to the radio for news of the Hurricane’s location and direction. I had made sure my family was safely sheltered up in Calabash Bight , my boat secured tied to an Oak tree and had returned to try and keep the lights on but the winds picked up and I couldn’t get back home and had to seek shelter in the plant house with Gustavo Chacon , the plant manager and an operator . High winds made it impossible to keep the power on , constantly tripping the main feeder breakers. It was on the night of the 28th when the SV Fantome was lost and the over-excited announcer on HRN exclaimed , “ Ya no existe ….” ! We had a chuckle together. The plant house was largely undamaged apart from some roofing that came loose , the distribution system was widely damaged mostly on the eastern side of the island but that’s for another story !

By 2010 the U1 ,U2 and U3 were starting to become cranky and temperamental like any senior citizen ; here a 12,000hr maintenance is being performed on U1 with cylinder liners being reinserted into the block.

              After Mitch , development on the island bounced back and smaller higher RPM , CAT units were brought in , in a hurry to cover the peak , by the year 2000 maximum demand was bordering on 8Mw. Distributed generation and isolated systems were a unique case in those days for the regulatory body ( CNE todays CREE ) and as such were still being considered to be the same as the ENEE which is part of a large grid including Transmission and various powergen sources such as Hydro and heavily subsidized by the central government. Without a coherent tariff structure , RECO was forced to charge a tariff that did not allow for any improvements on the small grid or for increasing generating capacity . The Board of Directors began seriously looking for an investor to come on board with new technologies and regulatory knowledge to try and make RECO sustainable. This chance came in 2006 , when the present investor Kelcy Warren stepped in and despite their being other equally attractive offers for RECO on the table , the Islander’s chose the KWEI option and placed their confidence in his plan. One of the first tasks he and his team ( of which I played a part together with Richard Warren ) had before us was to complete the payment of and place online the large 16 cylinder SW280 ( 4.5Mva ). Once done the existing power plant had 11Megawatts of installed capacity which was enough , together with the several CAT containerized units spread around the yard , to supply power ( albeit with regular interruptions )until the new LPG fired plant was built in 2016 and placed online in 2017.   

Original diesel plant shown in 2016 with extended hangar and the 4 stacks showing location of ( from R to L ) U1 , U2 , U3 and U4 ( the 4.5Mva 16 cylinder SW280 ), note remaining containerized CAT units to the left of the hangar which were still in service to a limited extent in 2016 to cover demand peaks.

             When I was asked by Kelcy Warren to join the KWEI team in 2006 I spent a large part of my workday ( and nights ) in this plant house. It came to be a second home where I would share a coffee and take away meals and sweat bullets trying to keep the lights on under much pressure. It is a part of me and a part of Roatan history standing as a symbol of the first big step taken by the islanders toward energy independence . As I have observed over the past few weeks the gradual demolition  of the plant house each time I drive by I feel a part of me is being torn away , that space where I walked , slept and ate in the dark days of RECO. No fuel , machinery constantly breaking down , occasional sabotage , unstable grid and no money to buy anything and like jugglers our team of dedicated mechanics , electricians and linemen were constantly trying to keep all the balls in the air to keep everyone with power ! As I mentioned at the beginning , the saddest part of this process , which I can only assume is for an expansion of generation capacity is that there is no mention of what is taking place on the company’s social media platforms or websites nor reference to the building’s historic relevance. Progress is a good thing but so therefore is the observance and remembrance of past achievements which give a community and a people pride and it is out of this pride that confidence is borne to strive for bigger , greater things not necessarily in the power industry.

 With gratitude to the following founders of RECO , some no longer with us who played their part in starting it all :

Albert Jackson QEPD ; Allan Hyde QEPD ; Rita Thompson Silvestri ; Mel Norman QEPD ; Charles George QEPD ; Luey McLaughlin ; Larry McLaughlin ; Ricky Merren ; Jensen Elwin ; Curby Warren ; Evans McNab QEPD ; Willie Wildt Yates QEPD ( Comisario ENEE ) ; Julio Galindo ; Jerry Hynds ; Ken McNab Sr. ; Antonio Irias QEPD ; Steven Guillen ; Clint Bodden ; Robert Gough ; Fernando Fernandez ; Giovanni Silvestri ; Aaron Woods QEPD ; Winston Smith ; Glenn Bennet QEPD ; Leonora ‘Lena’ Ebanks QEPD ; Teddy Ebanks ; David Henson McNab QEPD ; Shawn Hyde ; Italo Tugliani , Felipe Danzilo

Yours truly after Hurricane Mitch performing repairs with the company’s first digger-derrick on a hill overlooking Carib Point Bight.
Board meeting around 2004 , left to right : Larry McLaughlin , Felipe Danzilo , Giovanni Silvestri , Aracely Lupiac de Posse ( comisario ENEE ), Winston Smith , Leonardo Casco ( General Manager ), The author with his eyes closed , Clint Bodden
1993 showing wooden storage building and NRECA office and original office building far right
Inauguration day left to Right , Curby warren , NRECA delegation ( Robert Toombs – GM Tri-County Rural Co-Op , white cap and beard ), Howard Evirs ( NRECA manager ) , Willie Wildt Yates ( ENEE ) , Allan Hyde , Willie Elwin , Luey McLaughlin and Charles ‘Vegas’ George.
Aging switchgear and relays in the high voltage bus-room of the old plant being inspected by members of the press and Patronato leaders in 2016

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