Connecting one fridge at a time
Nadine Wilson, Gleaner Writer
Elizabeth Hart and her husband, James, generally don't mind sharing, but after 35 years, they are getting weary of splitting their 110-volts electricity supply with their two neighbours.
In their small rural Manchester community of Medina, the Harts have to inform their neighbours when they are about to turn on their television or plug in their fridge. A failure to do so could be disastrous for the three households as their limited electricity supply does not allow for all three families to operate their appliances at the same time.
"If we know that they are running their fridge, we can't run our fridge, we have to plug out our fridge. So that's how we have to be doing it. We have to be rotating just in order to make sure that we don't knock out the system," explained Elizabeth.
In 1979, the couple ran a wire from their house to the town square, which is powered by the Jamaica Public Service (JPS). Since then, efforts to get the company to complete this project and supply the houses located off the main road with electricity have not borne much fruit.
"We had to hire a man to carry the post them and pay truck man to drop them, and we had to dig the post holes ourselves and put up the post. It was terrible to get the post them up. We had to carry them through hills, so we tried not to use anything too heavy, although that is not safe," James explained.
When The Gleaner visited the district last week, electrical wires were observed precariously intertwined with at least two miles of thick green foliage that separate the community from the town square.
next best alternative
James said some community members had also connected their wires to electricity sources in other communities. For those in no position to finance this huge undertaking, like the Harts' two neighbours, sharing with others has been the next best alternative.
The couple explained that the electricity wiring in their community had been inspected and approved by certified electricians in Manchester. Each month, they are also sent a bill by the JPS averaging about $14,000, which they split with their neighbours.
"We are not into the stealing light up here, so we have to help out. We have to pay," insisted James as the evening news echoed in the background. Listening to the radio is the primary source of entertainment for the couple as they spend the better part of their day farming.
Two out-of-use refrigerators and a deep-freezer pushed to one side of the couple's kitchen testify to another issue caused by the low voltage. The couple said several of their appliances had been damaged over the years when they attempted to use them along with other appliances. Whenever this happens, they just bear their losses.
"JPS is going to tell us that it's not their fault. We can't win JPS, no matter how we try," said Elizabeth.
roundabout trip with jps
The Harts showed The Gleaner copies of letters they had written to the JPS in May, June, and then July of this year, which were co-signed by 16 other residents in their section of the community known as Honey Hill.
They said they had written the company several times over the years and were told they might need to make monetary contributions to any effort to get electricity in their small district.
Elizabeth said in 1996, they were sent a letter from the JPS informing them that it would cost $5 million to get electricity into the community. She said she was told the residents would have to raise this money.
"We were so frightened that I just fling away the letter," she hissed. "We would have to go sell sand from off seashore to get that money," she said.
When contacted, corporate communications manager at the JPS Winsome Callum said it was the responsibility of the Rural Electrification Programme (REP) to prepare the infrastructure in inaccessible rural communities to receive electricity.
"The reason why JPS can't do this is because this is an extra cost that would have to be passed on to the customers, so there is an arrangement that can be made," said Callum.
This arrangement involves the residents in these communities paying the JPS to put in the infrastructure.
Callum said she could not speak definitively about the arrangements made with residents of Medina.
Member of Parliament for North West Manchester Mikael Phillips believes it could be a while before the residents living in Honey Hill receive electricity through the REP as there are at least 11 communities that are waiting to receive electricity in his constituency alone.
Phillips said he had been using part of his $15 million allocation from the Constituency Development Fund to finance electrification projects, however, with other things to consider such as education and road repairs, he could only contribute to putting in electricity in two communities each financial year.
He said there were three that would be tackled between now and 2016.
"REP is underfunded in my estimation, so we try to meet part of the cost," said Phillips.
A little more than $156 million was set aside in the 2014-15 Estimates of Expenditure to fund the agency, which is tasked with bringing electricity to households in remote areas that have not yet been electrified.
But while the Harts and their neighbours wait for their community to be picked from the long list of those the REP have to electrify, there are concerns about their safety.
Firefighter Sanjay Facey, who lives in the nearby community of Mayfield, believes both the lives and properties of residents are at risk.
Facey said that given the great distance the electricity has to travel from to get to these households, it is likely that 110 volts, for example, could be 60 volts by the time it reaches the district.
The fact that this is being shared among three people makes the situation even more dangerous.
Public relations officer for the Jamaica Fire Brigade Emelio Ebanks agrees that electricity decreases with distance.
"Electricity faces resistance as it goes along the line, so the greater the distance it has to travel, the more resistance it is going to face and the more the voltage is going to drop, so they are definitely going to suffer from a lot of low voltage," Ebanks told The Gleaner.
"When they (residents) are getting the low voltage and they have regular appliances plugged in that require 110 volts to operate, they are going to be having outages, and then these outages can actually result in the appliances malfunctioning, and this can start a fire," added Ebanks.
In 1892, Jamaica became one of the first countries in the world to receive electricity. This was only 13 years after Thomas Edison invented the electric lamp. Now, more than 120 years later, there are some Jamaicans still living without electricity. These are their stories.